April 6, 2017

On Trotskyism- Problems of theory and history


Trotsky and his successors have always denied the existence of 'Trotskyism'. They profess to be the faithful disciples of Lenin. According to them the term was invented by the 'Stalinists' to designate a so-called theory of Trotsky's with the intention of making it a target for their attacks, which are really directed against the revolution in the USSR and the world. Trotsky protested that his concept of the permanent revolution was taken from Marx and that Lenin 'tacitly' went over to it in his 'April Theses'. Certain Trotskyists or Trotskysants, notably Isaac Deutscher and Alfred Rosmer, have argued that there is no difference between their mentor's permanent revolution and Mao's uninterrupted revolution by stages. Trotsky himself said, 'I have never claimed and I do not claim to have created a special doctrine. In theory, I am a pupil of Marx. As for revolutionary method, I went through Lenin's school.'(1)

It would seem that Trotskyism's defence implies its disavowal and the misrecognition of the theoretical contribution of Lenin. However, there is some truth in Trotsky's denials. Deutscher has insisted on his attachment to 'classical Marxism'. We shall show in what follows that this is a euphemism designating an approach that is at once dogmatic and empirical, the theoretical impotence implied by the dogmatism leading those who are afflicted by it to revert to empiricism. Bukharin said of Trotsky that he 'excelled . . . in tracing general revolutionary perspectives'. In fact, that is where his talents as a 'theoretician' end. In contrast to Lenin and Mao he was never able to analyse a conjuncture in its specificity, or to determine the principal contradiction and the principal slogan. As he never established the laws of the revolution in a social formation by applying the universal principle of historical materialism in the practice of the class struggle, his contribution to this science was nil. Moreover, his few original 'ideas' are not his own, for above all he vulgarised those of others. What is more, he did not demonstrate much discernment in his borrowings, as we shall see in the case of 'primitive socialist accumulation'. Even his most ardent supporters are embarrassed when they are asked to name the concepts he produced.

For all these reasons, it is possible to speak of Trotskyism as an ideological current but only with difficulty as a body of doctrine, and not at all as a 'guide to action'. Trotsky's retractions on the subject of the 'Thermidorian reaction' are a perfect illustration of his complete theoretical impotence. As for the Trotskyists today, they practise the dogmatism of a dogmatism. In the era of the cultural revolution and of the thought of Mao Tse-tung, the third stage of Marxism, they are the fossils of a past epoch - Marxists of the first stage. In other words, they are not Marxists at all. 

The bourgeois propagandists and Trotskyist ideologues are united by a community of goods. The former provide the latter with their dens of research and documentation. Kremlinology, Pekinology and the publications of the US Consul-General in Hong Kong are the principal sources of Trotskyist diatribes against the socialist countries.(2) For their part, the Trotskyists are important purveyors of 'theoretical' hypotheses, historical schemas and falsifications that make it possible to attack Stalin and People's China from an apparently 'left-wing' standpoint, which is an important resource for certain journalists who claim to be enlightened. This is a matter of a 'pre-established harmony', not a deliberate collusion. For different reasons both propagate the idea that the Communist Parties were only puppets manipulated by Moscow and Stalin, the source of all evil. 

One of the most curious arguments of Trotsky's apologists consists of comparing their idol's wit and sparkling prose with the heavy and inharmonious style of the auto-didact Stalin, concluding that the latter could not have been right against the former. As if a solid position in Marxist-Leninist science were a matter of literary talent. This idea runs like a black thread through every page of Isaac Deutscher's biography of Trotsky. Deutscher insistently emphasises that Stalin did not command attention as a theoretician before 1924. In fact, from this point of view, it was Bukharin who enjoyed the most prestige after Lenin. Does this mean that he was right to support the kulaks, to proclaim to them the slogan 'Get rich' and to preach the construction of socialism 'at a snail's pace'? Such logic borders on the grotesque at times, as when Deutscher declares that Ch'en Tu-hsiu was a 'theoretician' much superior to Mao. 

The bourgeois publicists argue in the same way. Cadar, the anarcho-Trotskysant, attacks Mao for his 'primary-school outlook'. His thought is not 'refined'. It is incomprehensible to him that writers as 'sophisticated' as Althusser, Glucksmann or Sollers hold Mao in such high esteem. (3) L. Bianco (4) declares that Mao is not 'a profound thinker' but only a 'mediocre theoretician'. It is true that for Bianco (p. 135) to be a 'thinker' is to be a 'contemplative'. He observes that Mao has been able to 'emancipate himself from dogma and see reality for what it is', but it does not seem to occur to him that in order 'to see reality for what it is' singularly powerful theoretical spectacles are required, as well as the ability to lead the struggles of the masses who transform this reality in a revolutionary way (if you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself). Like Trotsky, what these authors are unable to conceive is the link
between theory and practice and the concrete forms of this link: the mass-line. Did not Trotsky claim to judge revolutionaries the world over from his offices at Prinkipo and Coyoacan, without even having led, as Stalin did, a true International rooted in the masses? 

If the result (his articles) sometimes sparkles like glass it is also just as fragile.
Having style and a wide culture, he drew from it the conviction that his ideas were as profound and well-based as they were brilliantly formulated. With him, comparison is very often substituted for argument, and rhetoric for concrete thought. Hence it may be said that he was a victim of his strengths as much as of his weaknesses, the former giving him the illusion that he possessed precisely the powers he lacked: those of the political strategist and theoretician. Mao said: 'The more one thinks one is superior, the more mediocre the results one gets.' Those who have been close to Trotsky have noted his ambition, his pride, and indeed his arrogance. He placed himself high above the rest of humanity, conceding only one exception and that only in the single period from 1917 to 1924. In his writings Trotsky has the good taste not to stress the high opinion he had of himself. In contrast, he does not hide from us the contempt in which he holds the most eminent Bolshevik leaders. One day the texts in which he condemned, denigrated and ridiculed his communist adversaries or fellow combatants should be brought together into an anthology. The polemicist makes fun of his victims but the last laugh will be on him. 

I shall not use the same weapons. I shall submit his theses to a severe, but fair critical examination. It is easy to compile a voluminous 'catalogue of errors' out of extracts from his books, and there is a great temptation to pass over in silence his merits in so far as he accepted Lenin's leadership during the first five years of the revolution: revisionist writers generally proceed in this fashion. For my part, I prefer to take on the Trotsky phenomenon face-to-face since, after all, despite all the exorcisms, it lives on.

It is clear that Trotsky was endowed with great talents. As a brilliant publicist, enthusiastic speaker, organiser of the Red Army, he rendered eminent services to the revolution after joining the Bolshevik Party. The reverse of the medal was his extreme individualism, his pride, his arrogance and the fact that the rigour of his thought was that of a barrister, not that of a theoretician who derives his strength from his link with the masses and from his ability to lead them. His best-known works, 'The New Course', 'The Revolution Betrayed', 'The Permanent Revolution', are skilful and brilliant pleas 'pro domo suo', but they are of limited interest because they demonstrate at most that certain of the criticisms directed at him were unfounded. In fact, not everything that he said in his polemic with Stalin was false. But as we shall see, he was mistaken about the essentials. His rival had a decisive advantage over him which a comparison of their respective contributions to the debate makes plain: Stalin was a Leninist, a revolutionary leader in the second stage of Marxism; as his biographer says, Trotsky was a 'classical' revolutionary surviving in a post-classical world.

These old controversies would be of only historical interest if the Trotskyists did not derive from them a part of their argument. In so far as they have a certain influence in the student movement and thrive on and foster the ideological confusion that reigns there, it is a contribution to hygiene to compare the main themes of their propaganda with the facts. These main themes start from 'theoretical principles'; we shall examine their scientific status; that is, their ability to think reality with a view to its transformation. In addition they mobilise examples drawn from the history of the workers' movement. Never having assumed the autonomous direction of a victorious revolution in the forty years that their organisations have existed on an international scale, the Trotskyists cannot rely on exemplary cases of the application of their principles. Their argumentation is therefore based on a critique of the experience of others. 

We shall see that in each case their version of history is a schema very remote from reality. The books in which Trotsky, his followers and those whom they have influenced, accuse (often correctly) the 'Stalinist' historians of having falsified history are innumerable. Should we be surprised if they themselves falsify it still more in their propagandist literature?(5

Lies and invective have taken the place of a serious refutation of Trotskyism for too long. The Soviet historical works present such an expurgated and one-sided version of the facts that they are useless to a public which has access to complementary, even contradictory, information. Aragon's 'L'Histoire de l'USSR' is worse than the rest from this point of view. Suffice it to mention the cavalier way he conjures away the polemic on the Chinese revolution in 1927. It is important to clarify these problems, notably in the youth movement, an important sector of the popular revolutionary movement.

In fact the opportunist degeneration of numerous Communist Parties, notably in Latin America and Europe from 1945 onwards, and then the adoption of the revisionist theses of the 20th Congress of the CPSU have contributed to give Trotskyism a 'second wind'. Counter-revolutionary as it used to be (in the period 1929-45), it now tends to embody the revolt of the intellectual petty bourgeoisie in the 'revolutionist' mode. The constant and general advance of Trotskyist movements since 1960 is thus explained. The unprincipled attacks made by Khrushchev against Stalin's person and the absence of a scientific self-criticism by the CPSU provided the Trotskyists with the possibility of presenting their 'prophet's' appraisals of the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s as predictions of its evolution in the 1950s and 1960s. They are thus able to justify retrospectively their attitude in Stalin's day while duping the young whose historical knowledge is meagre and who are consequently susceptible to seduction by explanatory schemas which have the merit of simplicity, if not of rigour. 

Profiting from this favourable conjuncture, they intrepidly proclaim that '"Trotskyism" . . . has once more become the touchstone . . . of all contemporary revolutionary movements'.(6)

The appearance of Léo Figuères's book, 'Le Trotskyisme, cet antileninisme', shows that henceforth the PCF is obliged to recognise this new situation. It faces up to it with its usual methods. Léo Figuères entitles one chapter 'Trotsky the populist' but he avoids drawing the reader's attention to the fact that this 'first part' of Trotsky's 'militant life' of which he speaks relates to the period when Trotsky was less than nineteen years old! Referring to the Spanish Civil War, our author attributes the sins of the POUM to Trotskyism - whereas the leader of the Fourth International had jeered at those in the POUM as 'impotent centrists'.(7) Lastly, Léo Figuères attributes to Trotsky an opinion he always refuted, namely that the bureaucracy is a 'new class'. These few minor dishonesties (I have ignored even better ones) show well enough that such a book can only convince the ignorant or those who are already convinced. Criticising Trotskyism from a rightist standpoint, Figuères helps to give it a left-wing halo it scarcely deserves. 

The object of this book is not to weigh the historical role of Stalin or of Trotsky and his movement. I propose only:

(a) to isolate what I believe to be the essence of Trotskyism in order to show how it is opposed to Leninism, and how it is anti-dialectical and anti-scientific (and therefore non-revolutionary) when it is not counter-revolutionary.

(b)to dissipate the legends and myths of its so-called historical argument by showing how the latter is contradicted by the facts, in other words by a scientific analysis of the class struggle in the period concerned.

I take Stalin's part solely within the limits of the debate between him and Trotsky. The critique of the latter is to be found in the writings of the former but the reverse is not true. No refutation of Trotsky can be conclusive unless it is accompanied by a critique of Stalin. The latter requires the concepts produced by Mao Tse-tung. Thanks to him and to the cultural revolution it is possible today to go beyond 'Stalinism' and consequently, on the theoretical and practical level, to weigh it up definitively against Trotskyism. 

Once beyond the point of departure constituted by the refutation of Trotskyism, it turns out that there are more questions than answers. The reader is warned in advance so that he may not be led astray by the occasionally overconfident tones of these pages. My aim has been to advance the debate, not to close it.