From The Archives Of The International Communist League- The Stalinist School Of Falsification Revisited- A Reply To The "Guardian", Part Five- THE STRUGGLE FOR THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL
In October 2010 I started what I anticipate will be an on-going series, From The Archives Of The Socialist Workers Party (America), starting date October 2, 2010, where I will place documents from, and make comments on, various aspects of the early days of the James P. Cannon-led Socialist Worker Party in America. As I noted in the introduction to that series Marxism, no less than other political traditions, and perhaps more than most, places great emphasis on roots, the building blocks of current society and its political organizations. Nowhere is the notion of roots more prevalent in the Marxist movement than in the tracing of organizational and political links back to the founders, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the Communist Manifesto, and the Communist League.
After mentioning the thread of international linkage through various organizations from the First to the Fourth International I also noted that on the national terrain in the Trotskyist movement, and here I was speaking of America where the Marxist roots are much more attenuated than elsewhere, we look to Daniel DeLeon’s Socialist Labor League, Eugene V. Debs' Socialist Party( mainly its left-wing, not its socialism for dentists wing), the Wobblies (IWW, Industrial Workers Of The World), the early Bolshevik-influenced Communist Party and the various formations that led up to the Socialist Workers Party, the section that Leon Trotsky’s relied on most while he was alive. Further, I noted that beyond the SWP that there were several directions to go in but that those earlier lines were the bedrock of revolutionary Marxist continuity, at least through the 1960s.
I am continuing today what I also anticipate will be an on-going series about one of those strands past the 1960s when the SWP lost it revolutionary appetite, what was then the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) and what is now the Spartacist League (SL/U.S.), the U.S. section of the International Communist League (ICL). I intend to post materials from other strands but there are several reasons for starting with the SL/U.S. A main one, as the document below will make clear, is that the origin core of that organization fought, unsuccessfully in the end, to struggle from the inside (an important point) to turn the SWP back on a revolutionary course, as they saw it. Moreover, a number of the other organizations that I will cover later trace their origins to the SL, including the very helpful source for posting this material, the International Bolshevik Tendency.
However as I noted in posting a document from Spartacist, the theoretical journal of ICL posted via the International Bolshevik Tendency website that is not the main reason I am starting with the SL/U.S. Although I am not a political supporter of either organization in the accepted Leninist sense of that term, more often than not, and at times and on certain questions very much more often than not, my own political views and those of the International Communist League coincide. I am also, and I make no bones about it, a fervent supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, a social and legal defense organization linked to the ICL and committed, in the traditions of the IWW, the early International Labor Defense-legal defense arm of the Communist International, and the early defense work of the American Socialist Workers Party, to the struggles for freedom of all class-war prisoners and defense of other related social struggles.
When Polemic Ruled The Leftist Life- Trotskyism vs. Stalinism In It Maoism Phase, Circa 1973
Markin comment on this series:
No question today, 2011 today, Marxists in this wicked old world are as scarce as hen’s teeth. Leninists and Trotskyists even fewer. And to be sure there are so many open social and political wounds in the world from the struggle against imperialism in places like Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, just to name the obvious America imperial adventures that come quickly off the tip of the tongue, to the struggles in America just for working people to keep heads above water in the riptide of rightist reaction on the questions of unemployment, unionism, social services, racial inequality and the like that it is almost hard to know where to start. Nevertheless, however dismal the situation may seem, the need for political clarity, for polemic between leftist tendencies, is as pressing today as it was going back to Marx’s time. Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, after all, is nothing but a long polemic against all the various misguided notions of socialist reconstruction of society of their day. And Marxists were as scarce as hen’s teeth then, as well.
When I first came under the influence of Marx in the early 1970s, as I started my search for some kind of strategy for systemic social change after floundering around with liberalism, left-liberalism, and soft social-democracy, one of the things that impressed me while reading the classics was the hard polemical edge to the writings. That same thing impressed me with Lenin and Trotsky (although as the “prince of the pamphleteers” I found that Trotsky was the more fluent writer of the two). That edge, and the fact that they all spent more time, much more time, polemicizing against other leftists than with bourgeois democrats in order to clarify the tasks confronting revolutionaries. And, frankly, I miss that give and take that is noticeably absent from today’s leftist scene. Or is dismissed as so much ill-will, malice, or sectarian hair-splitting when what we need to do is “make nice” with each other. There actually is a time to make nice, in a way, it is called the united front in order for the many to fight on specific issues. Unless there is a basic for a revolutionary regroupment which, frankly, I do not see on the horizon then this is proper vehicle, and will achieve all our immediate aims in the process.
So call me sentimental but I am rather happy to post these entries that represent the old time (1973, now old time) polemics between the Spartacist brand of Trotskyism and the now defunct Guardian trend of Maoism that the now far less radical Carl Davidson was then defending. Many of the issues, political tendencies, and organizations mentioned may have passed from the political scene but the broader questions of revolutionary strategy, from the implications of Trotsky’ s theory of permanent revolution to the various guises of the popular front still haunt the leftist night. Argue on.
The Stalin School of Falsification Revisited
These articles were originally serialized in Workers Vanguard, in 1973, starting in the 22 June issue [No.23] and concluding in the 10 October issue [No. 30]
Reply to the Guardian
THE STALIN SCHOOL OF FALSIFICATION REVISITED
5. THE STRUGGLE FOR THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL
A party that is incapable of defending the conquests already won by the working class will certainly be unable to lead the proletarian revolution. From the time it was formed in 1923 until Stalin ordered the German Communist Party to capitulate to Hitler without a fight almost ten years later, the Left Opposition steadfastly held to the banner of the Third International. In spite of the most incredible bureaucratic rigging, wholesale expulsions, and even exile and deportation, Trotsky held adamantly to his course of reforming the Comintern. Bureaucratically expelled Left Oppositionists demanded readmittance to their respective CPs and acted insofar as possible as factions of the Communist International, rather than proclaiming new parties. Critical events inside or outside the Soviet Union could stir the working class into action once again and provide the opportunity for replacing the Stalinist usurpers. Further, the Third International, enjoying the prestige of association with the only successful socialist revolution, had strong ties with the masses which could not be ignored. For the Left Opposition to prematurely renounce the Comintern would abandon hundreds of thousands of revolutionary-minded workers to the bureaucracy and doom the Trotskyists to isolation and irrelevance.
The sectarian-defeatist "Third-Period" policies of the Comintern which led to the victory of fascism in Germany in 1933 forced the Left Opposition to adopt a radical change in its perspective. Ever since 1930 Trotsky had warned that the fate of the international revolutionary movement depended on the outcome of the struggle against the fascist threat in Germany. The Communists (KPD), following Stalin's orders, played directly into the hands of the fascists by refusing to call for a united front with the Social Democracy (SPD) against the Nazis, instead denouncing the SPD as "social fascist."
The Call for a New International
Hitler's peaceful march to power, without even token resistance by the Communists, led Trotsky to correctly conclude that the KPD had decisively degenerated. As a consequence of this world-historical defeat and betrayal, the German working class lay prostrate for more than a decade and the second imperialist world war and Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union were prepared. The Left Opposition now called for a new party in Germany:
"The question of the open break with the Stalinist bureaucracy in Germany is at the present moment of enormous principled importance. The revolutionary vanguard will not pardon the historical crime committed by the Stalinists. If we support the illusion of the vitality of the party of Thaelmann-Neumann we would appear to the masses as the real defenders of their bankruptcy. That would signify that we ourselves veer toward the road of centrism and putrefaction."
--L.D. Trotsky, "KPD or New Party?," March 1933
But what about the rest of the CI?
"Here it is natural to ask how we act toward the other sections of the Comintern and the Third International as a whole. Do we break with them immediately? In my opinion, it would be incorrect to give a rigid answer--yes, we break with them. The collapse of the KPD diminishes the chances for the regeneration of the Comintern. But on the other hand the catastrophe itself could provoke a healthy reaction in some of the sections. We must be ready to help this process. The question has not been settled for the USSR, where proclamation of the second party would be incorrect. We are calling today for the creation of a new party in Germany, to seize the Comintern from the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy. It is not a question of the Fourth International but of salvaging the Third."
However, not a single one of the Comintern sections made the slightest protest to Stalin's claim that the policies of the KPD had been correct from start to finish, or even called for a discussion of the German events! Trotsky responded by declaring that an organization which is not roused by the thunderbolt of fascism and submits docilely to the outrageous acts of the bureaucracy demonstrates that it is dead and that nothing can revive it; Stalinism had its 4 August (a reference to the definitive betrayal of the reformist German Social Democrats, who voted for the Kaiser's war budget in August 1914, thus siding with "their own" bourgeoisie in the imperialist war). In July 1933 Trotsky called on the Left Opposition to begin working for the creation of a new International and new revolutionary parties throughout the world. In accord with the new perspective, the Left Opposition changed its name to the International Communist League.
Trotsky's analysis was quickly confirmed. After the German debacle the Comintern substituted the capitulatory policy of the "united front" at any price for the adventures of the Third Period. In its international policies, the Soviet Union decided to join the imperialists' League of Nations (which Lenin had denounced as a den of thieves) and turned toward military alliance with French imperialism, openly repudiating revolutionary internationalism. The Stalinists divided the imperialist powers into two categories: the "democratic, peace-loving" on the one hand, and the fascist, war-like on the other. The Third International was subverted into becoming a simple tool for the diplomatic interests of the Russian bureaucracy, with the job of forging alliances with the "peace-loving" imperialists to protect "socialism in one country." Thus the French CP was ordered to vote for the defense budget of its bourgeois rulers. The Stalinist bureaucracy officially declared that Roosevelt was "honestly seeking a democratic and pacifist solution to imperialist conflicts" and consummated popular-front alliances with liberal bourgeois parties in France and Spain in 1936, which led to the victory of the fascists three years later. During World War II Stalin finally declared that the Comintern no longer served any purpose and formally disbanded it.
The ICL and groups sympathetic to it did not simply proclaim themselves to be the new International. Expulsion of the Left Opposition from the Comintern had deprived it of a necessary sphere of political activity, forcing it to develop as an isolated propaganda group. The Left Opposition had been able to train a limited number of cadres but lacked roots in the masses and was numerically weak. Moreover, its organizations had not been tested in serious class battles. The period ahead was to be one of preparation:
"Propagating the ideas of the Left Opposition, recruiting more and more adherents, individually and in groups, into the ranks of the International Communist League, carrying on an agitation among the masses under the slogan of the Fourth International, educating our own cadres, deepening our theoretical position--such is our basic work in the historic period immediately ahead of us." [emphasis in original]
--L. D. Trotsky, "The SAP, the ICL and the Fourth International," January 1934
The principal tactic used by the ICL to recruit new adherents was revolutionary regroupment. Trotsky was the first to recognize the immensity of the task faced by his small, isolated movement. He searched out every opportunity to break out of isolation and find new allies, even temporary ones, so that the first steps could be taken toward the building of a new International.
In a period of tremendous revolutionary opportunities and dangers the oppositionist moods and tendencies of the 1930's bore a predominantly centrist character, vacillating between social patriotism and socialist revolution. The German events (1931-33), the crushing of the "leftist" Austrian Social Democracy together with its supposedly powerful party militia (the Schutzbund) in 1934, caused deep ferment in the working-class movement and a widespread rejection of reformism. A proliferation of centrist currents appeared, as frequently occurs in the early stages of a new upsurge of working-class militancy. The ICL (oriented toward these groups in order by example and propaganda to win the healthiest elements to a revolutionary program. But the tactic of revolutionary regroupment is not, as some maintain, a process of political accommodation to centrism. At the same time Trotsky waged a consistent struggle against the vacillating centrist leaderships, mercilessly rejecting the slogan of "unity" of all working-class organizations regardless of program and tactics:
"...to blur our difference with centrism in the name of facilitating 'unity' would mean not only to commit political suicide, but also to cover up, strengthen, and nourish all the negative features of bureaucratic centrism, and by that fact alone help the reactionary currents within it against the revolutionary tendencies."
--"On the State of the Left Opposition," 16 December 1932
The realignment of forces within the European working class did not bypass the parties of the Second International. Disillusioned with the Comintern, many working-class militants and youth joined the social democratic parties, resulting in the proliferation of leftward-moving tendencies within them. In France, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland sections of the Socialist Youth became sympathetic to Trotsky's ideas.
In France, the Socialists (SFIO) had split at the end of 1933 with the right wing forming its own organization. This split shifted the SFIO, the largest workers party in France, to the left, and Trotsky advised the small French section of the ICL to enter the Socialists. The formation of a "united front" of the SFIO and CP in July 1934 and talk of merger of the two reformist parties provided added reason for immediate entry; every tendency outside the united front would become more isolated than ever. Trotsky advocated similar entries (the so-called "French turn") in most of the other sections as well.
The French turn led to deep disputes and even splits within the partisans of the Fourth International, with some ultra-left sectarians such as Oehler in the U.S. rejecting the entry tactic on principle. The French section was split in half over the question, and the Spanish Communist Left (led by Andres Nin) rejected it outright (only to fuse with a reformist group to form the POUM a year later). Even where it was carried out, however, the French turn and struggles to regroup revolutionaries out of leftward-moving centrist formations brought few recruits to the Trotskyists. The proletariat had a long series of defeats behind it and was in retreat. With the threat of a new world war, the working class was interested in immediate solutions to its problems; the tiny Trotskyist groups were not attractive.
Founding of the Fourth International
But with the impending threat of imperialist war and the drying up of the various centrist currents following the advent of the popular-front governments in France and Spain, the objective need for the foundation of a new International permitted no further delay. In September 1938 the founding conference was held in Paris with 21 delegates representing 11 countries. While the Fourth International was weak in numbers, it represented the continuity of Leninism, expressed above all in its program.
The basic programmatic document adopted at the founding conference, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International ("Transitional Program"), is the single most comprehensive and succinct summary of Trotskyism, representing the distillation of the interests of the proletariat in the epoch of imperialism. It is a document that has been willfully misunderstood, both by its opponents and some of its supposed adherents. Above all, it is not a program of reforms but represents marching orders for the seizure of power by the proletariat. It is based on the premise that in the epoch of capitalist decay, the objective prerequisites for socialist revolution are not only ripened, but already beginning to rot. The fundamental factor preventing world revolution is the reformist leadership of the unions and mass workers parties, the agent of the bourgeoisie in the workers movement: "The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership."
During the period of progressive capitalism the Social Democracy distinguished its minimum program (trade-union reforms, political democracy) and its maximum program (socialism), postponing the latter to the indefinite future. Now "there can be no discussion of systematic social reforms and the raising of the masses' living standards...every serious demand of the proletariat...inevitably reaches beyond the limits of capitalist property relations and of the bourgeois state." The task of the communist vanguard was to make the proletariat conscious of its tasks, through a series of transitional demands which formulate the objective needs of the working class in such a way as to make clear the need to destroy capitalism:
"The strategic task of the next period--a prerevolutionary period of agitation, propaganda and organization--consists in overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard (the confusion and disappointment of the older generation, the inexperience of the younger generation). It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today's consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat." [emphasis in original]
--The Transitional Program, 1938
Such demands included a sliding scale of wages and hours, opening the books of the capitalists, expropriation of industry under workers control, for the formation of factory committees, workers militias, soviets and a workers government. In the backward countries it called for proletarian revolution, supported by the peasantry, which would solve both democratic (agrarian revolution, national independence) and socialist tasks. In the Soviet Union it called for political revolution, while stressing the commitment of the Fourth International to unconditional defense of the USSR against imperialist attack.
The Fourth International, at the time of its founding conference, was composed of sections consisting of a few dozen or at the most a few hundred members (with one exception, the U.S. section, the Socialist Workers Party, with 2,500 members). But despite their small numbers, the Trotskyists were a mortal threat to Stalin and his entourage of bureaucratic usurpers. The only answer was political and physical annihilation.
Stalin was, however, increasingly worried about even his own faction, and beginning in 1936 he proceeded to purge the entire leadership of the army; through the medium of the Moscow trials he accused and convicted all nine members of Lenin's Political Bureau (save Stalin himself), as well as virtually the entire Bolshevik Central Committee of 1917. At the third trial (March 1938) Trotsky and his son Leon Sedov were accused of conspiring to sabotage and overthrow the Soviet government and restore capitalism in alliance with Hitler and Mikado. In his famous secret speech at the 1956 Twentieth Party Congress, Khrushchev officially admitted that the trials and the "confessions" on which they were ostensibly based were a fraud from start to finish. Nevertheless, both Moscow-line and Maoist Stalinists today continue to repeat the slanders that Trotsky cooperated with the fascists even though there was never produced one shred of evidence to "prove" these charges.
Also at this time Stalin unleashed a systematic campaign to exterminate Trotskyist leaders throughout the world and to eliminate the thousands of Russian Left Oppositionists in the labor camps. An eyewitness account from the Vorkuta camps told of roughly 1,000 Bolshevik-Leninists in this camp, and several thousand more in the other camps of the province. Down to the end, the Trotskyist prisoners called for the overthrow of the Stalin government, while always stressing they would defend the Soviet Union unconditionally in case of war. When in the spring of 1938 the GPU ordered the murder of all remaining Trotskyists they marched to their deaths singing the Internationale.
Internationally, the GPU had assassinated Trotsky's son; the Czech Erwin Wolf and the German Rudolf Klement, both secretaries of Trotsky; and the Pole Ignace Reiss, a former head of Soviet secret service in Europe. During the same period they also eliminated prominent ex-Trotskyists such as Nin in Spain, the Austrian Landau and others. The culmination came with the assassination by a GPU agent of Trotsky himself on 20 August 1940.
Unconditional Defense of the Soviet Union
The favorite charge of the Stalinists during this period was always that Trotsky allied with foreign powers to destroy the Soviet state. This was a bald-faced lie, as Trotsky always insisted that true Bolshevik-Leninists must unconditionally defend the historical gains of the October Revolution (see part 3 of this series). Every single programmatic document of the Left Opposition, the International Communist League and the Fourth International proclaimed the unconditional defense of the USSR against capitalist restorationist forces and imperialist attack.
But defense of the Soviet state required above all the ousting of the Stalinist regime which consistently sabotaged that defense. By the theory of "socialism in one country" the bureaucracy wrote off the possibility of world socialist revolution which was the only real defense of the achievements of the first workers state in history. But Stalin did more than this: he twice decapitated the top leadership of the Soviet armed forces during the late 1930's (after repeatedly purging the Red Army during the 1920's to drive out the Trotskyists); and he placed blind faith in his treaty with Hitler, thereby preparing the way for the rout of the Russian forces during the first weeks of Hitler's invasion of the USSR. Only by vigorously leading the workers against their own bourgeoisies in the capitalist countries, and through political revolution in the Soviet Union, could the road be opened to socialism. This was the task of the Fourth International.
Trotsky's last political battle was over precisely this question. In 1939-40, under the pressure of public opinion which had turned against the Soviet Union during the Hitler-Stalin pact, a petty-bourgeois opposition formed among elements of the leadership in the American SWP. The Shachtman/Burnham/Abern group suddenly "discovered" that the Soviet Union was no longer a workers state, and thus need not be defended unconditionally. Trotsky steadfastly refused to give one inch to the Shachtmanite faction, for he understood perfectly that to waver on this crucial issue would condemn the Fourth International to an ignominious death. This dedication to Bolshevik principles cost the SWP roughly 40 percent of the party membership when the Shachtmanites split in 1940, and destroyed the youth section. Though weak and persecuted, the Fourth International was able to avoid its own "4 August" by steadfastly holding to its program during this period of intense social patriotism.