Click on title to link to the Albert Glotzer Internet Archive for samples of his writing while was in the Socialist Workers Party in the 1930s and later after he split from that party in the famous Shachtman-led exit in 1940 over the question of defense of the Soviet Union. That was the touchstone issue for his, and later generations, and one can see in the later writing the slip-slide into the defense of "democratic" imperialism. A cautionary tale, for sure.
TROTSKY-MEMOIR AND CRITIQUE, ALBERT GLOTZER, PROMETHEUS BOOKS, NEW YORK, 1989
THIS MONTH MARKS THE 67TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MURDER OF LEON TROTSKY BY A STALINIST AGENT-ALL HONOR TO THE MEMORY OF THE GREAT RUSSIAN REVOLUTIONARY
As readers of this space may know I make no bones about being an admirer of the work of Leon Trotsky (see archives). I have noted elsewhere that I believe that the definitive biography of the man is Isaac Deutscher’s three-volume set. Nevertheless, others have written biographies, or in this a case a memoir and critique (naturally-the memoir alone in this case would not sustain a book) on Trotsky that are either less balanced than Deutscher’s or come at it from a different angle with a different ax to grind. Mr. Glotzer’s take on Trotsky’s legacy is a classic post World War II social democratic one driven by the effect of the ravages of American imperialism during the Cold War on the right wing of that international political tendency. The post war period was not kind to those who fell away from the politics that sparked their communist youth, but more on that at another time.
Despite our extreme politic differences Mr. Glotzer’s reminiscences of how he became a communist are welcome. I am always fascinated by how those who came to political maturity a couple of generations before me and who are the real living links to the Russian Revolution felt about that event. Moreover, Mr. Glotzer is no mere chronicler of Trotsky’s life. During the 1930’s before the political temperature in the American left intellectual milieu got too hot for some of them Mr. Glotzer was part of the leadership of the American Trotskyist movement and was a key lieutenant, factional operative and personal friend of a central founder- one Max Shachtman. That these two, along with another “Young Turk” one Martin Abern, spent as much time plotting for organizational control of the movement against the wily ‘bureaucratic’ old timer and founder James P. Cannon during that time as in constructive political work is a separate issue. Needless to say only a few cryptic references to that experience surface in this work- a very selective memoir, as is usually the case. For more on that political struggle read Cannon’s The Struggle for a Proletarian Party and Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism and make up your own mind.
As always the critique of Trotsky, or more correctly, Bolshevism is centered on the question of the organizational principles of that party. That is democratic- centralism or as the critics would have it bureaucratic-centralism-long on the bureaucratic, short on the democratic. Trotsky is seen here to have escaped that bad practice until he linked up with the Bolsheviks in 1917. This is his 'original sin' in the eyes of liberals and social democrats like Glotzer. The reduction of an organizational principle of a political party to the decisive reason for the degeneration of a revolution defies belief.
The model for all European social democratic parties, including both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in Russia, at the turn of the 20th century was the German party. One does not have to read to far into the history of that party to know that even without state power to buttress its organizational practice that party was as bureaucratically run as any Stalinist party cell. The real question then is not the principle of democratic centralism but the question of a ‘vanguard party’ versus a ‘party of the whole class’. In the end that was what the dispute in the Russian social democracy turned on. And later on the international movement, as well. History has demonstrated, if it has demonstrated anything on this question, that a ‘party of the whole class’ with its implication of inclusiveness toward socially backward workers can never take state power, if that was the idea of those who argued for this type of party in the first place. All of the above said, the question of bureaucracy in the process of transforming society from capitalism to socialism is one that has, in the light of the history of Stalinism, has to be taken as a real question. There are no a priori guarantees on the bumpy road to socialism but that is hardly the decisive question for now.
The rest of Glotzer’s critique is a more or less quick gloss on his politics and a rather annoying gloating over what proved to be the incorrectness of some of Trotsky’s predictions. The central argument Glotzer presents here is that capitalism rather than being in its death throes as Trotsky (and before him, Lenin) suggested still had, and has, a life and is not ready to be relegated to the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, those social democrats, like Glotzer, did more than their fair share of ideological work of behalf of preserving the imperialist status quo. Perhaps he would have been better off if he had ended his memoirs in his Communist youth in the 1930’s when he helped to try to create an international Trotskyist youth movement -that is the Glotzer who interests me. The rest I have heard a million times before.