Saturday, January 11, 2014

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin, Private Investigator - After You’re Gone


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler

Those who have been following this series about the exploits of the famous Ocean City (located just south of Los Angeles then now incorporated into the county) private detective Michael Philip Marlin (hereafter just Marlin the way everybody when he became famous after the Galton case out on the coast) and his contemporaries in the private detection business like Freddy Vance, Charles Nicolas (okay, okay Clara too), Sam Archer, Miles Spade, Johnny Spain, know that he related many of these stories to his son, Tyrone Fallon, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Tyrone later, in the 1970s, related these stories to the journalist who uncovered the relationship , Joshua Lawrence Breslin, a friend of my boyhood friend, Peter Paul Markin, who in turn related them to me over several weeks in the late 1980s. Despite that circuitous route I believe that I have been faithful to what Marlin presented to his son. In any case I take full responsibility for what follows.        

You don’t exactly meet the nicest people in the crime detection business, private eye variety. Sure once in a while some forlorn housewife uses her pin money to search for a wayward husband, maybe he is a machine- operator or something like that, who had gone on a toot, or had just gone, and she wanted him back. But even that dear forlorn housewife has only limited resources to expend on   

that useless search and would cry uncle before she spends all that money she was saving for a fur, or something, on that damn deadbeat. No sleuth could make a living, maybe could not even pay office rent if that housewife and her brethren were the main source of income. So every detective from high-profile shamus to keyhole peeper, including one Michael Philip Marlin, depends on the fact that the rich have wild children or wives. That, or that some well-heeled gangster has a job that his normal hit man can’t handle and calls in for some private service at a daily rate plus expenses. That is what Marlin thought he had agreed to when Steve Silver showed up at his door one day looking for his old sweetie, Lorna Reed. 

Now the reason that Steve had rapped on Marlin’s office door was that Marlin had been had been instrumental in sending Steve up to the Q for a dime’s worth on a bank robbery that he had done solo.

That time Marlin had been working, working hard since a twenty-five thousand dollar reward came with any recovery from the Consolidated Bank Association and picked up the change when    

Steve made the mistake of showing at the Club Paris one night, spending big, with no known source of income. Now this Steve was built, built big, rugged and strong so when he coped a plea saying he had done the job solo nobody argued the point. And in some ways, in the matter of women especially, this Steve was soft, soft as mush and so it was really not that weird Steve would be in Marlin’s office looking for help. Let by-gones be by-gones he said as he practically broke Marlin’s hand with his handshake.

Of course Steve had been out of circulation for eight years (he drew two years off for good time) and so this Lorna Reed could have been anyway, or nowhere. He hadn’t heard from her in six (which raised Marlin’s eyebrows more than a little) and he had had no success, none, trying to trace her at their old haunts. Yes, times change, change fast in places like L.A. and so when he went over to the Club Paris all he found was a vacant lot with construction of high-rise apartments scheduled to go on that site.See Lorna had been a warbler, a singer, a torch-singer at that old club and Steve, when he was working for Marty Walsh and his gang, had hung out there. He and Lorna had met between sets and that was that.

That was that since no one would dare to go near Lorna once she was his “girl” and Lorna sensing that no good would come of trying to avoid Steve when he had his wanting habits on played along with him while he was in the dough. Since he was clueless about where to find her he thought of Marlin and his skills at finding people. Besides you do not say no to a giant, a giant who may or may not squeeze the life out of you if you decide the wrong way. So Marlin had a client, a client in a missing person’s case.

After Steve left the office and Marlin thought about how he was going to proceed with finding Lorna he began to think about certain things. Certain things like how he had been tipped, tipped anonymously that night at the Club Paris when he collared Steve and got his big reward. Hell, it might very well have been Lorna looking to dump Steve. Probably the only way she knew how to do so. Yeah, she had called him although the voice he heard had obviously been disguised. More importantly he began to think about an eight year cold trail and how somebody, almost any ordinary joe or jill, who wanted to be unfound had all the best of it. But what really scared Marlin, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it, was that he did not want to go up against Marty Walsh and his organization in order to find the elusive Lorna.    

The picture of Lorna that Steve had provided (and which he had  apparently kept on his cell wall since it was in pretty rough shape) could have been any of a hundred warblers, starlets, party girls; long legs, good shape, big brown eyes, long brown hair and ruby red lips that he would not mind taking a run at himself. The streets of Hollywood, the studio lots, and the cafes, were filled with such types, some prettier, some just willing to do more to get ahead in that wicked old world of Hollywood in the 1930s. Well it was Steve’s dime.           

The first thing Marlin did was to trace some personal (non-Marty Walsh and his associates personal) who had worked the club back then, and who knew Lorna. He worked that angle for a while without success until his friend on the L.A. Police Department, Sergeant Sam Sloan, cobbled up some information for him (on the QT) about the guy who managed the club, Phil Foner. He gave Marlin an address, an address that he knew from a couple of other capers that was in the seedy part of town. He went there, found out from his wife that Phil Foner had been dead for five years, and after going out and buying a big jug of low-shelf Scotch got this wife to bring out some old professional photographs of the girls (“broads” she called them) and right in the center of the pile was a very much better photo of Lorna Reed (working under the name Lorna Sweet). Mrs. Foner, half-loaded by that point, said she did not have a clue where this Lorna was but Marlin sensed by her manner took it that she was lying.

Then Marlin got his big break, although maybe it wasn’t such a big break after all when the shooting was over. He took the picture around to a talent agent that he knew, Larry Levine, to see if he could help. Jesus could Larry help him he said- where had Marlin  been the past couple of years, that was Lorna Lavin the talk of the Frisco town night club circuit who was getting ready to break out big nationally any day now. Any day that Marty Walsh, her lover/ manager would unchain her talent for the national radio audience. Marty said in more than one interview that he wanted the right moment. And Marlin as he made plans to head up to Frisco to interview Lorna thought he was in a no- win situation once Larry sprung Lorna’s new life on him.     

Marlin needed not to have bothered because the cards were being dealt differently behind his back. This Steve maybe having been in stir too long, maybe just because he was a guy who thought nothing of holding up a major bank on a main street in daylight was also working his own way around the case. He had found Mrs. Foner and beaten her within an inch of her life until she told what she knew (she knew as Marlin surmised where Lorna was, was in fact receiving checks monthly from Lorna, or Marty, to keep quiet). She spilled the beans about her whereabouts at the Hi-Hat Club in Frisco and he had headed that way, headed there a day before Marlin got there, got there too late.

Steve in his frenzy to get his Lorna back had busted in the closed club, confronted a Walsh henchman, shot him point- blank, and proceeded to Marty’s office.  As bad luck would have it Lorna was there with Marty, alone. Steve, as cool as a cucumber, just said “hi babe, long time no see.” Lorna just smiled, smiled the kiss of death and said “Steve, I’m sorry I called copper on you but I didn’t know any other way to get you out of my life once Marty made his play for me.”

Steve, again cool, just said “that was the way I had it figured, but let’s get out of here and go have a couple.” Marty saw that he had no choice but to waste this guy, put him down in the ground hard, very hard pulled out a gun, and shot Steve four times. Steve still standing although already starting to slump put two right through Marty’s heart and he crumbled. After that Steve dropped to the ground mortally wounded and as Lorna came over to him to see if she could do anything he said “you were going with me, weren’t you?” Lorna lied, “sure Steve, sure I had just been waiting for you to show up.”  Steve smiled, or maybe half-smiled and then died. Marlin, although too late by about three hours, when he heard that just said “damn, damn it, some guys really have it bad for a dame no matter what”        

Asylum in Brazil for courageous Edward Snowden!

Asilo no Brasil para o corajoso Edward Snowden!

Dear friends
We invite you to sign David Miranda*'s petition requesting asylum in Brazil for whistleblower Edward Snowden, exiled in Russia for revealing massive spying by US and UK governments agencies NSA & GCHQ. His disclosures were widely covered by The Guardian its readers voted him Person of the Year 2013.
The petition says: [translated from Portuguese]
Edward Snowden gave up everything to bring to light the operation of mega espionage by the U.S. against Brazil and the rest of the world. His passport was revoked by his own country and now he's stuck in a legal limbo in Moscow, with a visa for just one year. Brazil, one of the main targets of espionage, should provide shelter to someone who opened our eyes to the indiscriminate U.S. surveillance globally. It's time to offer Edward Snowden immediate asylum in Brazil!
To sign, go to the Avaaz website, enter your email and press on

* David Miranda is a Brazilian gay man, who was detained on 18 August 2013 for nine hours under Section 7 of Terrorism Act because he was carrying Snowden’s files from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro for his partner, investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald. He is taking the UK Home Office to court.

Circulated by:
US:  215 848 1120 / UK:  020 7267 8698
 US:  415-626 4114  / 020 7482 2496
From The Marxist Archives -The Revolutionary History Journal-Book Reviews

...the most interesting book reviewed here is the one on anti-parliamentary communism and the "anti" ups (today among the small crowd of red/black anarchists) and downs of some kind of revolutionary policy toward bourgeois legislative institutions. Again Lenin in "Left-wing Communism" set up the proper parameters of the use of such means to get a hearing from the working class during non-revolutionary times. Use the tactic or don't as the occasion calls but don't make a principle either way out of it.

Oh yeah, and if things get squirrely then make sure, like the Bolsheviks did in their opposition to Russian entry into WWI, that your parliamentary representatives have their toothbrushes ready to go to prison or exile.       

Click below to link to the Revolutionary History Journal index.

Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:

This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.

Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible. 

The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.

Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff. 

Peter Taffe and Tony Mulhearn, Liverpool: A City That Dared to Fight, Fortress, London 1988, pp.497, £6.95.
Although the main thrust of this book deals with the last half dozen years and hence lies outside the scope of this magazine, it does include a preliminary sketch on the history of the labour movement in Liverpool and one or two hints about the part played in it by the Trotskyists.
Appendices 4 and 5 contain matter supplied in interviews by Jimmy Deane and Tommy Birchall. Along with several interesting details we are told that Charles Martinson, who later stood as an RCP candidate in the council elections, left the Communist Party when he was in the International Brigade over the attacks made on the POUM, and joined the Trotskyists when he got back to Britain.
Such items as these supplied by these veterans stand in marked contrast to what appears in Taffe and Mulhearn’s text whenever it touches on that time. Thus we are told (p.34) that already in 1938 Ted Grant was the “theoretician and principal leader of Trotskyism in Britain” There is no mention at all of D.D. Harber’s Militant group that Deane and Birchall joined to begin with and to which Grant belonged himself, that it was Gerry Healy who brought the Liverpool youth into the WIL, or that Ralph Lee, who had converted Grant to Trotskyism whilst still in South Africa, was far more prominent as a theoretician in the WIL to begin with than was Grant. And Haston and Tearse do not merit a mention at all.
A quick recourse to Trotsky’s Stalin School of Falsification should convince the writers how little credit they gain from this attitude to history.
Al Richardson


Mark Shipway, Anti-Parliamentary Communism, MacMillan, Basingstoke 1988, pp.239, £29.50.
The October Revolution drew on an international scale towards Bolshevism a wide range of radical groups and individuals. Despite their initial attraction to Bolshevism, some of them either adopted or continued with an orientation that was virulently hostile to working within bourgeois parliaments and reformist trade unions, and rejected any form of joint work with reformist parties. This book concerns itself with the groups of such a persuasion in Britain in the period of 1917 to 1945.
Along with organisations of a similar outlook, the Workers Socialist Federation, of which Sylvia Pankhurst was a leader, formed in 1920 the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) prior to the formation of the official CP, and attempted to win the Communist movement internationally to an anti-parliamentary strategy. Expelled from the Third International along with other such groups in various countries, it aligned itself with the Communist Workers International in 1921, only to fade away in the mid-1920s. Other anti-parliamentary groups, including one around the colourful Glasgow-based Anarchist Guy Aldred, formed in 1921 the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation. This group lasted through the Second World War, which it actively opposed, although not without fissures, Aldred splitting off in 1933 to form the United Socialist Movement.
Having left the Third International, Pankhurst’s group rapidly reconsidered its previously positive attitude towards Bolshevism. The New Economic Policy, of 1921 confirmed its opinion that the Soviet Union was now in fact capitalist with a new, ‘Communist’ ruling class. The Communists’ United Front tactic was seen as a rank capitulation to reformism. Grave doubts arose over Leninist norms of organisation. Aldred, whilst always critical of the Third International’s tactics, waited until the mid-1920s before considering the Soviet Union to be capitalist, and then he dabbled with Trotsky’s degenerated workers’ state theory in 1934.
Despite his sympathy towards the book’s subject, Shipway does not fail to draw attention to the more questionable aspects of the movement. During the first months of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 both the APCF and the USM made no criticisms of the Republican government. Shipway criticises Aldred for opening the pages of his journal during the Second World War to priests, parliamentary pacifists and the highly dubious Duke of Bedford, yet he approves of the anti-parliamentarians’ pacifist opposition to the war. He points to their failure to carry out a theoretical re-evaluation of the October Revolution – did it merely usher in capitalism? – yet considers this omission as justifiable. He does not comment on the APCF’s preference for Rosa Luxemburg’s crude under-consumptionist crisis theory as against the superior concepts expressed by Council Communist Paul Mattick.
One cannot judge the political validity of anti-parliamentary Communism by its failure as a movement; the entire history of Socialism appears to be a sad array of failures both heroic and ignoble. But the refusal of the anti-parliamentarians to work within trade unions or to countenance United Front work helped to keep the bulk of the working class under the influence of reformism. The problem was not the tactics of the Third International, but their application. Yet however much the anti-parliamentarian Communists were wrong, the main problem with the left in Britain has generally been opportunism, not ultra-leftism. Those who have touted left-speaking union bureaucrats or tried to apply United Front tactics regardless of their relevance to the situation should think twice before passing judgement.
Apart from its absurdly high price, the main problem with this book is the absence of oral evidence. Admittedly there can't be many survivors around, yet some interviews would have given an idea of the ‘feel’ of the movement. All the same, Anti-Parliamentary Communism sheds a welcome light upon a little-known corner of the labour movement in Britain.
Paul Flewers


Ellen Meiksins Wood, Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy, Verso, London 1988, pp.210, £22.95.
This is yet another academic assault on Marxism from within, following the fashion of re-evaluating the peasantry positively at the expense of the working class. This course has been trod by others from the Verso stable, from Löwy’s attempt to assign the ro1e of the working class in the permanent revolution in the underdeveloped countries to a petty bourgeois Stalinist clique undertaking peasant guerilla warfare, to the attack upon Marx’s theory of the Asiatic mode in the appendix to Anderson’s Lineages of the Absolutist State.
This admitted, it should be said that Professor Wood does a real service in demonstrating how thin the evidence is for the traditional view of the part played by slavery in ancient Athens. The most we can say of the Marxist view is now ‘not proven’, though highly likely. But is this saying any more than we already knew about the limitations of our source material in general for reconstructing ancient history?
There are times when evidently the author herself is not aware of exactly where these limits lie. Pythagoras is discussed on the assumption that he really was the originator of the famous theorem that bears his name, as if we really knew anything about him (p.2), and another charmingly naive passage (pp.162-9), whilst drawing our attention to Martin Bernal’s worthless book, tells us that as the Mycenaean script was only ever used for bureaucratic purposes (Linear A, presumably was limited to the same function!), it was to the introduction of the alphabet into the peasant society that we owe Greek achievement in literature, science and philosophy. What she must make of Phoenician literature (the entire Ras Shamra corpus, for a start), let alone the rich unalphabetic literatures of Egypt, Sumeria, Babylon and Assyria is anyone’s guess. And how Athens was capable of raising a hoplite army of thirteen thousand on near subsistence family plot farming is never explained to us.
Read the book by all means as a very successful example of special pleading, but for analysis you are safer with M.I. Finley and G.E.M. de Ste Croix.
Al Richardson


Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, Against the Stream - A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain, 1924-1938, Socialist Platform, London, 1986, pp302, £5.95.
This review appeared in the Winter 1986-87 edition of the Bulletin of Marxist Studies.
A number of books have appeared which purport to present a history of Trotskyism in Britain, before, during and immediately after the Second World War. All, however, fall well short of achieving this task. Riddled with errors, misunderstandings and even falsehoods, which would take a book to correct, fundamentally none of these ‘histories’ approach the question with a Marxist method. Rather than analyse the complex social processes which were unfolding in society at the time, and with the enormous advantage of subsequent experience appraise, documents in hand, the efforts of various trends to grapple with the problems raised, instead, under the guise of ‘balance’, personal reminiscences forty years after the events are elevated to the same level as the major programatic statements of the time and a mass of secondary details obscure the fundamental lines of thought. The result is a lightweight digest of dates arid personalities, a superficial sketch of events … but not a history of British Marxism …
There are a myriad sects that presently infest the fringes of the labour movement which occasionally Marxism has to combat politically in order to clarify the issues before the working class. The pioneers of British Trotskyism had also to deal with the distortions and corruption of the Marxist method perpetrated by the precursors of these sects.
One of the major debates immediately after the Second World War was: would there be any possibility of a boom and revival of capitalism? The forerunners of today’s sects, Cannon, Mandel, Pablo, Healy and Co, based themselves then on a dogmatic and robotic regurgitation of Trotsky’s words outlined in the 1930s that capitalism was in its ‘death agony’ and the coming war, predicted correctly by Trotsky, would provoke revolution arid economic crisis. And they categorically stated, even as late as 1947, that capitalism could not reach the level of production attained pre-war and that the world economy would remain in ‘stagnation and slump’.
The British Marxists, drawing on the method of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky rather than on unthinking recitation of old quotations from the Marxist masters, disputed this ‘analysis’ and were the first to predict that world capitalism was entering a period of ‘revival and boom’ after 1945. Reality had to kick the precursors of today’s sects in the face before they recognised this new period.
They then swung round 180 degrees and argued that capitalism could permanently solve its contradictions, at least in the advanced industrial world, through Keynesian state spending, permanent arms expenditure or exploitation of the colonial world.
The Friends of George Edwards
Our columns are open to these comrades if they should care to substantiate their allegations of the “errors, misunderstandings and even falsehoods, with which these books are apparently riddled”.


Ernest Mandel, The Meaning of the Second World War, Verso, London, 1986, pp210, £6.95.
In a review of this book elsewhere (Confrontation 3, Summer 1988) I criticised Ernest Mandel for his concessions to bourgeois historicism and for downplaying the catastrophic defeat that the Second World War represented for the international working class. Here I shall concentrate upon another aspect of his book – his apology for Stalinism.
We get a sense of Mandel’s problems when we read, on the back cover blurb, that the fight between the “hideously distorted Socialism” of the USSR and the “Nazi capitalism” of Germany represented “a decisive new element in the war”. Now, though Mandel does not follow his publishers in describing the Soviet Union as Socialist, it is clear that he too finds it a conundrum. It is “non-capitalist” (p.45), but fewer than 20 pages later it is guilty of “partial (post-capitalist) commodity production” (p.82). With this lack of clarity on the nature of the Soviet regime, it is hardly surprising that Mandel cannot explain its military exploits.
What Verso terms “hideously distorted Socialism”, Mandel translates as the contradiction between the USSR’s strengthening industrial and military infrastructure and the purges and diplomatic fiascos, initiated by Stalin, that ran alongside this process. How did the Soviet Union resolve that contradiction'? Eventually, Mandel says, the “achievements of October” (p.38) won out against all else, allowing Moscow to triumph over Berlin. Let us examine this claim.
It is true that the Soviet economy was strengthened in a dramatic manner in the ’thirties. But this was more a matter of the emergence of a new social formation and a weighty bureaucracy than strength in depth or strength in quality. The Stalinists’ great claims to fame were quantitative growth, and a shift, between 1932 and 1937, of the proportion of machine tools installed from 22 per cent Soviet-built to more than 90 per cent Soviet-built. On nearly every other index, however, the Soviet economy was weak – even in military-industrial sectors.
The Stalinists began the ’thirties with famine. By 1933 and the second Five Year Plan, Kazakhstan had to endure its third year of famine based on collectivisation (one million dead out of a nomadic population of less than four million), and the Ukraine its second based on ethnically-inspired terror (five million dead). Famine had also claimed a million lives in the North Caucasus and another million elsewhere in Russia. That same year, investment fell by 14 per cent, gross industrial production rose by only five per cent, and shortages and crises in transport were everywhere. The Five Year Plan had to be revised completely.
By 1937, when the purges were at their height, matters were little improved. Investment had sunk by 10 per cent in two years of bloodletting, and was especially poor in military basics such as iron, steel and construction. Real wages were perhaps a third down on those available in 1928; grain yields did not compare with those raised in the first Five Year Plan; the shortage of recruits in industry, construction and especially transport, where labour turnover stood at more than 100 per cent, stood at a new high of 1.5 million.
The Soviet economy grew because of the bureaucracy’s freedom to mobilise resources. Through terror, social engineering and a certain amount of foreign technology, a system was fashioned which could deliver ’ some of the goods, some of the time. The condition of the urban working class spoke a lot more for the strengthening of Soviet military-industrial might than did the “achievements of October”.
In 1926, 18 per cent of the Soviet Union’s population of 147 million people were in the cities. By 1939, 33 per cent of a population of 170 million were. In Moscow, in 1935, more than 90 per cent of tenants in old accommodation – the general rule in the city – lived one or more to a room; 25 per cent lived in dormitories, and five per cent in kitchens and corridors.

Slave labour

In the cities, as in the concentration camps, it was slave labour, not the gains of 1917, which allowed the Soviet economy to face down the Germans. From 1935 we are in the era of Stakhanov. Then, between 1937 and 1940, real wages dropped by 10 per cent. After laws introduced in 1940, being 20 minutes late for work meant up to six months’ hard labour and up to 25 per cent cuts in pay; unauthorised departures from work could mean four months in jail; low quality production work could lead to eight years in jail. The working day was lengthened from seven to eight hours, the working week from five to six days, and pay stayed the same,
After 1934, when food rationing gave way to price rises, wives went out to work much more. They thus joined with general demographic trends in adding more simultaneous working days to the Soviet economy. In 1938 maternity leave was cut from 112 to 70 days; in 1940 fees were introduced for students in upper secondary and higher education. It was, therefore, through the suffering of working class families that the bureaucracy was able to generate the wealth to fight and win the war
Mandel’s contradiction – industrial might vs. purges and foreign policy fiascos – amounts to little more than a liberal apology for Stalinism. Killing millions and allying with Hitler Mandel condemns with withering criticism; but he always makes clear that industry and thus the achievements of October were paramount. In fact, though, it is simply sentimental to attribute the USSR’s survival after 1941 to the overturn of October 1917. Not only did civil war, famine and the New Economic Policy separate the two periods: the purges themselves destroyed such tenuous links as still existed, by the mid ’thirties, between old Bolshevism and the new bureaucratism. After 1935, the bureaucracy was in complete control. Three in every four workers were on piece wages. In the West, the proletariat had been crushed.
It was the defeats of the working class that both empowered the Kremlin to win the war and ensured that the Soviet death toll reached 20 million. By the early ’forties Stalin had, in effect, run the Soviet economy on a war footing for more than a decade: just as he had thrown manpower and sweat at economic problems before, he now threw lives at the Nazi invaders. For Mandel, the revival in Soviet production after December 1941 demonstrates “the economic and social superiority of a planned economy” (p.53). In other words, it was the nationalised property relations established in 1917 which saw the USSR through. In reality, however, nationalised property relations, without conscious workers’ management, were little match for the law of value when it came to either economic or military competition.
The Soviet Union held out because the bureaucracy, could centralise and use resources as ruthlessly as the Nazis, but over a larger population and under natural conditions (distance, climate) which it could turn to its advantage. To put the Soviet Union’s survival down to ‘planned economy’ is ridiculous. Soviet research and development, for example, was poorly coordinated, too theoretical in orientation, and further weakened by the impact of imports of new, foreign technology. Foreign technology itself was often badly handled, and expert foreign technicians were made the subject of random terror. These fundamental defects were carried through to every sphere. The bulk of pre-war industrial investment was made in the west of the Soviet Union, the area most vulnerable to foreign attack. The territorial gains derived from the Hitler-Stalin Pact were put to no good use; nor were consistent intelligence reports about the Nazis’ plans for invasion. In terms of Stalin’s, generalship, Khrushchev’s report, in his Secret Speech of 1956, that Stalin could be lost for a map at crucial junctures in the war – this, today, still has the ring of truth about it. After the war, too, little changed. It took the Stalinist bureaucracy ten years to rebuild a number of important Soviet towns.
From on high there were orders, targets and repression in the war, and, as in other countries, the Soviet Union denied workers holidays, mobilised children and pensioners for the war effort, lengthened working hours and cut the availability of consumer goods. But collective, conscious planning never existed. What little the Soviet Union had ever managed to establish had been extinguished by the mid ’twenties.
Instead of bringing out the defeat of the Soviet proletariat, Mandel prefers to stress “the tremendous individual commitment of the Soviet working class” (p.53) and the “considerable morale among the workforce and the fighting men and women” (p.69). But this is not the end of his attempt unjustly to dignify the property relations of the Soviet Union with a progressive character. He makes a similar effort in his discussion of US aid during the war.
Most commentators accept that it was Soviet-built tanks and Soviet-built aircraft which won the day, not foreign technology. But Mandel feels the need to point out that “the amount of aid extended by the USA through Lend Lease and otherwise to all its allies was relatively small: some 15 per cent of its military output” (p.70). What he forgets is that, by his own figures (p.52), 15 per cent of the USA’s military output, even though only some of it went to the Soviet Union, was worth in 1942 $5.6 billion – in other words, getting on for half the Soviet Union’s military output of $13.9 billion. So while “l5 per cent” cost the USA little, it meant a lot to its allies – the Soviet Union included. In particular, the Kremlin gained from the USA more than 40,000 machine tools, nearly 2,000 Russian-gauge locomotives, and a large part of the 400,000 increase in military vehicles it recorded in the four years after 1941, when its fleet amounted to only 272,000. Apart from 4.5 million tons of American packaged food, more than two million tons of high-grade oil, millions of pairs of shoes and an enormous quantity of clothes, these vehicles were vital to the Soviet military: at the Teheran Conference of the Allies in 1943, Stalin reported that, in his offensive against Germany, his margin was simply 60 mobile divisions. Much of that mobility he owed not to Leninist planning, but to Studebaker trucks.
Mandel’s dishonesty over the dynamics of Soviet economic and military conduct is also evident in his omissions. In effect, he refuses to discuss the logic behind the labyrinth of Soviet foreign policy in the ’thirties. He supplies a paragraph on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939, a page on the Soviet Union’s ensuing occupation of eastern Poland but nothing at all on its deportation of over a million Poles to the USSR, and a few phrases only about other Soviet operations between 1939 and 1940: war against Finland, seizure and purging of Estonia (1.13 million people), Latvia (1.95 million), Lithuania (2.57 million) and Bessarabia. Aside from this, all Mandel offers on the Soviets’ pre-war international position is a footnote defending Britain and France from a polemic from the venal Molotov.


Mandel ignores the Kremlin's policy of peaceful coexistence with one or more imperialist powers at the expense of others – a policy which motivated Stalin from 1926-27 on, and one which still informs the actions of Mikhail Gorbachev and his worldwide followers today. For Mandel:
The Red Army’s complete lack of readiness in 1941 was the direct result of Stalin’s disastrous misunderstanding of the political situation in Europe and of Hitler’s – i.e., German imperialism’s – intentions in the coming war … the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 appeared increasingly as a strategic orientation rather than a tactical move (p33).
But the policy of peaceful coexistence was something much more profound than Stalin’s “misunderstanding” of European affairs. It was a “strategic orientation” in itself: the Hitler-Stalin Pact was but the tactical outcome of more than 12 years of fruitless searching for a durable imperialist ally.
Like bourgeois critics, Mandel likes to ridicule Stalin’s myopia about Hitler’s military intentions. But behind that individual myopia, the whole Stalinist dogma of Socialism in one country stressed the military intentions of outside imperialists above all else. For Stalin, the Soviet Union had only military, not economic, external threats to come to terms with. Especially after the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 sparked off a major recession in the West, Stalin made the exploitation of contradictions between the imperialists the dominating axis of his foreign policy, and abandoned all hopes of international revolution. Traditional Russian fears of encirclement, new and well-founded fears of nationalist unrest in the Soviet borderlands, and a desperate search for foreign technology – all these, not Stalin’s miscalculations, made the non-aggression pact inevitable.


After all, Moscow relied upon German technology for the implementation of much of the Soviet Union’s first Five Year Plan. Only during the first few years of Hitler’s power – from 1933 until 1936 – did Stalin stop formally courting Germany, and even then secret contacts continued. Indeed, the Byzantine course of Soviet foreign policy did much to discredit Communism in the eyes of the international working class even before the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Once the Pact became public, confusion reigned supreme throughout the international left.
In 1933 Moscow gained diplomatic recognition from the USA, spurred by its considerable dependence on American (and especially General Electric) technology. Once it had joined the imperialist League of Nations in 1934, foreign commissar Maxim Litvinov became the chief spokesman for ‘Collective Security’ against Hitler. As a result, British junior minister Anthony Eden, when brought to the Kremlin in 1935, was treated to the first rendition of God Save the Queen by a Moscow band since Tsarist times; in the same year, too, the signing of the Franco-Soviet Pact showed Stalin not adverse to concluding a deal of principle with a right-winger as slippery as Pierre Laval.
Does Mandel touch on how, in 1937, Stalin’s betrayal of the Spanish revolution ensured that what remained of the international vanguard of the working class was purged just as mercilessly as the people of the Soviet Union? Or on how, given the collapse of Anglo-French opposition to Hitler in the Munich crisis of September 1938, Stalin’s foreign policy framework dictated that he appoint a Politburo member, Molotov, to take charge of the all-important work of building a new alliance with Germany? Not at all. For him, Stalin was involved in a “reckless diplomatic game” (p.33). Writing the achievements of 1917 as large as he does, Mandel refuses to clarify how the Soviet Union was subordinate to the West and on the losing end of Allied appeasement of Nazism.
Nor does he consider the wider implications of Moscow’s eventual wartime alliance with Britain and America against Germany and Japan. In retrospect, we can see in the Second World War the beginnings of that integration into the world economy and world affairs which Gorbachev both benefits from, and is exercised by, today. In the years running up to the war, the Soviet economy was largely autarchic: shortages of foreign exchange, and attempts at import substitution, denied for foreign technology even the qualitative impact it had had before. During the war, by contrast, Moscow benefited not only from US Lend Lease, as we have seen, but also from British technology: one British firm of boilermakers, for example, alone supplied the Soviet power industry with 13 percent of its steam-generating capacity between 1942 and 1945. The war also gave Moscow a network of technical spies in the West which proved useful for at least two decades.
At the diplomatic-military level, the war marked the highpoint of peaceful co-existence. In August 1942, Stalin received Churchill, the West’s most notorious anti-Communist in Moscow, and graciously accepted his statement that the Allies were in no position to open a Second Front against Berlin. In 1943 he came out in favour of Roosevelt’s formula, upheld at Casablanca in the January or that year, of unconditional surrender for Germany; at Teheran in November, he also indicated his willingness to join in the war against Japan. With the establishment of the US Military Mission in Moscow in 1943, Soviet American exchange of and collaboration in intelligence began in earnest, as did the carpet-bombing of Germany by American planes based in the Ukraine. By October 1944, Stalin and Churchill jointly shared a standing ovation in the Bolshoi Theatre. The Comintern no longer existed, but joint planning of operations against German and Japan was underway. Over Italy Stalin had given his approval of the government of Marshal Badoglio, the invader of Abyssinia; over Japan he was shortly to agree to the rule of General MacArthur; he became such a zealous supporter of the United Nations that he proposed a specially formed U N air force to help police the world. The deception of the international working class, around the banner of anti-Fascist unity and the ‘Big Three’, was complete.


Although the Cold War meant a temporary collapse in East-West links, the 1941-46 period gave the Soviet Union ‘superpower’ status, and irrevocably too. The tangled web of trade and debt relations which today binds the Soviet Union to Western economies has its origins in the Second World War.
Many of those relations today derive not directly from the Soviet Union, but from those states in Eastern Europe which it was able to take over and, as Mandel puts it, transform “into a strategic glacis designed to protect the country’s western flank against possible future German revanchism” (p.62). However, Mandel’s treatment of the buffer states is entirely perfunctory. He spends a paragraph on the Warsaw Rising, pausing only briefly to mention how “ongoing repression by the NKVD” brought it forward and how Stalin’s unkept promises of Red Army assistance decapitated it (p.144). Then, in a striking reversal of his earlier subjectivism, he asks of the war’s conclusion:
Was the outcome decided at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam? Was it, in other words, the product of diplomatic horse-trading, ‘mistakes’ or even ‘betrayals’? To a large extent it was determined on the battlefield. (p.150)
Mandel wants to show that objective military circumstances, not the politics of Stalinism, were at issue in Eastern Europe. He discusses what would have happened if Washington had listened to London, if Eisenhower had gone beyond the Elbe, if Germany had capitulated in 1944, if Poland had made a deal with the Soviet Union in 1942, if the Red Army had arrived in Berlin before the Allies, and soon (pp.151-3). But that Stalinism might just be guilty “even” of betrayals bothers him hardly at all, so anxious is he to separate himself from vulgar, “conspiratorial” accounts of Soviet behaviour. Thus we are led to the following statement:
From the standpoint of the long-term interests of the working class, not to mention the interests of world Socialism it would of course have been preferable if the masses of Romania and the other East European countries had been able to liberate themselves through their own forms of struggle. The Soviet bureaucracy’s ‘revolutions from above’ bequeathed an ugly political legacy, not only in this part of Europe, but throughout the world. But this issue in turn had been largely pre-determined by what happened in the ’twenties and ’thirties, ie by the internal crisis of the Comintern and the growing passivity of the labouring masses. (p.156)
Now: during the years 1944-47, the workers of Eastern Europe went through one in what was to be a series of ordeals at the hands of Stalinism. That many of them welcomed the Red Army only to be repressed by it only confirms the point. Yet Mandel’s delicacy in evading this issue is breathtaking. Those East European workers who can still bring themselves voluntarily to recall their treatment at the hands of the Red Army will be glad to learn from Mandel that it was “of course” contrary to their “long-term” interest, not “preferable”, etc. They would, no doubt, also be comforted to learn that their fate was “pre-determined” by their “growing passivity” in earlier times. In fact matters stand very differently.
Throughout the Forties, the Balkans were the ideal place for the Kremlin to take advantage of imperialist rivalries, imperialist exhaustion and a general discrediting of the weak, far-right local bourgeoisies. At every stage, however, the USSR's grounds for expansion were defensive, a confession of the superior economic performance of the West. As a result, the workers of Eastern Europe were always and entirely the victims of the process. They experienced no revolutions from above – with or without inverted commas. What they saw was a social formation less efficient even than capitalism being consolidated through social engineering and terror.
Apart from nationalisations and manipulation of political parties, the bourgeois state bureaucracy, the intelligentsia and so on, terror was an essential, if uncontrollable, element in the extension of the Soviet system to Eastern Europe. In the Soviet Union, terror had been a necessary evil in the removal of the New Economic Policy: it proved doubly necessary in capitalist Eastern Europe. The Kremlin’s fear of and hostility towards nationalism in border territories was another factor making the purges in Eastern Europe even more ferocious than the internal purges of 1935-37.
It is true that Mandel describes the overturns in Eastern Europe as “a strictly military-bureaucratic operation … with no intention of "stimulating" international Socialist revolution” (p.166) and that he condemns the Kremlin’s deportation of 11 million German refugees from Eastern Europe as “indefensible” (p.163). Mandel also observes, of the Allies’ post-war carve-up, that “the gains of capitalism were certainly greater than those of the Soviet bureaucracy” (pl66). There, however, he stops.
In the West there is a great amount of hysteria about Stalinist purges in general, and those conducted in Eastern Europe in particular. Yet the task of dispelling this hysteria is not made easier by Mandel’s conspicuous desire to pass over the facts. When the Germans invaded in 1941, the NKVD shot thousands of Balts and Ukrainians in prison camps while the Red Army retreated. In 1944 deportation, imprisonment or execution caught perhaps half a million Romanians, as many Hungarians and yet more Ukrainians, Tartars, Caucasians and other nationalities. Five years later show trials opened in Prague, Budapest and Sofia, as Poland’s Gomulka was jailed, Yugoslavia’s Tito was ostracised, and more than a million East European Communists, stripped of party membership, met a grisly fate. The purges were not confined either to Eastern Europe or to wartime: politically, the Soviet Union was highly unstable after Germany's initial successes in 1941 and only widespread terror within what remained of its borders could guarantee the eradication of dissent and assure a serious war effort. Moreover, purges inside the Soviet Union raged in 1946-47 (against Jews and army officers) and again in 1949-50 (a wave of arrests and shootings in Leningrad). Thousands of Lithuanians, Ukrainians and prisoners also died in major disturbances in the late ’forties. Are these developments not part of the defeats of the international working class? Are they not part of the meaning of the Second World War? Mandel does not want to talk about them.
Mandel refuses to settle scores with Stalinism. Here, in his chapter on ‘ldeology’, is how he deals with the growth of Russian chauvinism in the war:
At the beginning of World War II the Soviet bureaucracy tried to stick to the peculiar ideology that had emerged from the Thermidor: a mixture of crude, dogmatised and simplified ‘Marxism-Leninism’, doctored and deformed to suit the bureaucracy’s specific interests; a no less crudely Byzantine cult of Stalin (the soldiers and workers were literally called to fight and die ‘;for the Fatherland, for Stalin’); and a growing Great Russian nationalism. Following German imperialist aggression, the Communist and pseudo-Communist themes rapidly receded into the background, as, incidentally, did the Stalin cult – at least until 1943. Russian nationalism more and more came to the fore, together with pan-Slavism. This culminated in Stalin’s Victory Manifesto of May 1945, which defined the victory as that of the Slav peoples in “their century-old struggle against the Germanic peoples”. So much for the counter-revolutionary (Trotskyist?) formula of the Communist Manifesto, according to which the history of all societies is the history of class struggles, not the history of ethnic struggles. (p.86)
If only the whole impact of the war on the consciousness of the Soviet working class could be dismissed in such a cavalier manner – by a quick reference to the Communist Manifesto! Unfortunately, things are not so simple.
It is ridiculous to overplay the ‘class’ aspects of the Soviet victory and underplay the ethnic ones. The Stalinist treatment of Russian nationalities and of Eastern Europe had a clear racial dimension to it, and this needs saying again and again. It was not just that Stalin disinterred Tsarist figures as national heroes, revived the trappings of the Tsar’s army (salutes, epaulettes, Cossacks), reclaimed Tsarist possessions from Japan (Sakhalin, the Kurils, Port Arthur), ordered a new national anthem to replace the Internationale, and gave his official seal of approval to the Russian Orthodox Church. Every broadcast by the man ended with the ringing slogan “Death to the German invaders”. While the Soviet Union colluded in the establishment of Israel, a principal charge laid at the feet of those purged in the late forties was ‘Zionism’ or ‘cosmopolitanism’: the war provided a major impetus to anti-semitic feeling in the USSR. Nationalism, a natural response to Nazi intervention, was turned by Stalin into a major source of Soviet social cohesion and military élan. To hint at this in half a paragraph is criminal.
It is criminal, in particular, because as we have noted of the West, the Soviet workers’ political defeat at the hands of nationalist reaction was not so interpreted by them. On the contrary, Stalin emerged from the war as a national hero. Despite horrendous losses, the doctrine of Socialism in one country appeared vindicated. Stalin’s “victory of the Slavs” was unscientific, but it was what people thought and still think in the Soviet Union today. We cannot ignore this.
Ernest Mandel was a principled and heroic Trotskyist during the Second World War. In its immediate aftermath he was not so soft on the conduct of Stalinism in Eastern Europe as, sadly, he is now (See The Soviet Union After the War, International Information Bulletin, Socialist Workers Party (US), Vol.1, No.2, 1946). For more than 40 years Mandel has dominated the international Trotskyist movement; his works are published in many languages, his prestige is great, and of his personal integrity there can be no doubt. But he understands neither the Soviet Union nor its involvement in the Second World War.
Gemma Forest

HONOR THE THREE L’S-LENIN, LUXEMBURG, LIEBKNECHT-Honor An Historic Leader Of The Russian Revolution-Leon Trotsky




Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution is partisan history at its best. One does not and should not, at least in this day in age, ask historians to be ‘objective’. One simply asks that the historian present his or her narrative and analysis and get out of the way. Trotsky meets that criterion. Furthermore, in Trotsky’s case there is nothing like having a central actor in the drama he is narrating, who can also write brilliantly and wittily, give his interpretation of the important events and undercurrents swirling around Russia in 1917.

If you are looking for a general history of the revolution or want an analysis of what the revolution meant for the fate of various nations after World War I or its affect on world geopolitics look elsewhere. E.H. Carr’s History of the Russian Revolution offers an excellent multi-volume set that tells that story through the 1920’s. Or if you want to know what the various parliamentary leaders, both bourgeois and Soviet, were thinking and doing from a moderately leftist viewpoint read Sukhanov’s Notes on the Russian Revolution. For a more journalistic account John Reed’s classic Ten Days That Shook the World is invaluable. Trotsky covers some of this material as well. However, if additionally, you want to get a feel for the molecular process of the Russian Revolution in its ebbs and flows down at the base in the masses where the revolution was made Trotsky’s is the book for you.

The life of Leon Trotsky is intimately intertwined with the rise and decline of the Russian Revolution in the first part of the 20th century. As a young man, like an extraordinary number of talented Russian youth, he entered the revolutionary struggle against Czarism in the late 1890’s. Shortly thereafter he embraced what became a lifelong devotion to a Marxist political perspective. However, except for the period of the 1905 Revolution when Trotsky was Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet and later in 1912 when he tried to unite all the Russian Social Democratic forces in an ill-fated unity conference, which goes down in history as the ‘August Bloc’, he was essentially a free lancer in the international socialist movement. At that time Trotsky saw the Bolsheviks as “sectarians” as it was not clear to him time that for socialist revolution to be successful the reformist and revolutionary wings of the movement had to be organizationally split. With the coming of World War I Trotsky drew closer to Bolshevik positions but did not actually join the party until the summer of 1917 when he entered the Central Committee after the fusion of his organization, the Inter-District Organization, and the Bolsheviks. This act represented an important and decisive switch in his understanding of the necessity of a revolutionary workers party to lead the socialist revolution.

As Trotsky himself noted, although he was a late-comer to the concept of a Bolshevik Party that delay only instilled in him a greater understanding of the need for a vanguard revolutionary workers party to lead the revolutionary struggles. This understanding underlined his political analysis throughout the rest of his career as a Soviet official and as the leader of the struggle of the Left Opposition against the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution. After his defeat at the hands of Stalin and his henchmen Trotsky wrote these three volumes in exile in Turkey from 1930 to 1932. At that time Trotsky was not only trying to draw the lessons of the Revolution from an historian’s perspective but to teach new cadre the necessary lessons of that struggle as he tried first reform the Bolshevik Party and the Communist International and then later, after that position became politically untenable , to form a new, revolutionary Fourth International. Trotsky was still fighting from this perspective in defense of the gains of the Russian Revolution when a Stalinist agent cut him down. Thus, without doubt, beyond a keen historian’s eye for detail and anecdote, Trotsky’s political insights developed over long experience give his volumes an invaluable added dimension not found in other sources on the Russian Revolution.

As a result of the Bolshevik seizure of power the so-called Russian Question was the central question for world politics throughout most of the 20th century. That central question ended (or left center stage, to be more precise) with the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. However, there are still lessons, and certainly not all of them negative, to be learned from the experience of the Russian Revolution. Today, an understanding of this experience is a task for the natural audience for this book, the young alienated radicals of Western society. For the remainder of this review I will try to point out some issues raised by Trotsky which remain relevant today.

The central preoccupation of Trotsky’s volumes reviewed here and of his later political career concerns the problem of the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the international labor movement and its national components. That problem can be stated as the gap between the already existing objective conditions necessary for beginning socialist construction based on the current level of capitalist development and the immaturity or lack of revolutionary leadership to overthrow the old order. From the European Revolutions of 1848 on, not excepting the heroic Paris Commune, until his time the only successful working class revolution had been in led by the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917. Why? Anarchists may look back to the Paris Commune or forward to the Spanish Civil War in 1936 for solace but the plain fact is that absent a revolutionary party those struggles were defeated without establishing the prerequisites for socialism. History has indicated that a revolutionary party that has assimilated the lessons of the past and is rooted in the working class, allied with and leading the plebeian masses in its wake, is the only way to bring the socialist program to fruition. That hard truth shines through Trotsky’s three volumes. Unfortunately, this is still the central problem confronting the international labor movement today.

Trotsky makes an interesting note that despite the popular conception at the time, reinforced since by several historians, the February overthrow of the Czarist regime was not as spontaneous as one would have been led to believe in the confusion of the times. He noted that the Russian revolutionary movement had been in existence for many decades before that time, that the revolution of 1905 had been a dress rehearsal for 1917 and that before the World War temporarily halted its progress another revolutionary period was on the rise. If there had been no such experiences then those who argue for spontaneity would have grounds to stand on. The most telling point is that the outbreak occurred in Petrograd, not exactly unknown ground for revolutionary activities. Moreover, contrary to the worshipers of so-called spontaneity, this argues most strongly for a revolutionary workers party to be in place in order to affect the direction of the revolution from the beginning.

All revolutions, and the Russian Revolution is no exception, after the first flush of victory over the overthrown old regime, face attempts by the more moderate revolutionary elements to suppress counterposed class aspirations, in the interest of unity of the various classes that made the initial revolution. Thus, we see in the English Revolution of the 17th century a temporary truce between the rising bourgeoisie and the yeoman farmers and pious urban artisans who formed the backbone of Cromwell’s New Model Army. In the Great French Revolution of the 18th century the struggle from the beginning depended mainly on the support of the lower urban plebian classes. Later other classes, particularly the peasantry through their parties, which had previously remained passive enter the arena and try to place a break on revolutionary developments.

Their revolutionary goals having been achieved in the initial overturn- for them the revolution is over. Those elements most commonly attempt to rule by way of some form of People’s Front government. This is a common term of art in Marxist terminology to represent a trans-class formation of working class and capitalist parties which have ultimately counterposed interests. The Russian Revolution also suffered under a Popular Front period under various combinations and guises supported by ostensible socialists, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, from February to October. One of the keys to Bolshevik success in October was that, with the arrival of Lenin from exile in April, the Bolsheviks shifted their strategy and tactics to a position of political opposition to the parties of the popular front. Later history has shown us in Spain in the 1930’s and more recently in Chile in the 1970’s how deadly support to such popular front formations can be for revolutionaries and the masses influenced by them. The various parliamentary popular fronts in France, Italy and elsewhere show the limitations in another less dramatic but no less dangerous fashion. In short, political support for Popular Fronts means the derailment of the revolution or worst. This is a hard lesson, paid for in blood, that all manner of reformist socialists try deflect or trivialize in pursuit of being at one with the ‘masses’. Witness today’s efforts, on much lesser scale, by ostensible socialists to get all people of ‘good will, etc.’, including liberal and not so liberal Democrats under the same tent in the opposition to the American invasion of Iraq.

One of Trotsky’s great skills as a historian is the ability to graphically demonstrate that within the general revolutionary flow there are ebbs and flows that either speed up the revolutionary process or slow it down. This is the fate of all revolutions and in the case of failed revolutions can determine the political landscape for generations. The first definitive such event in the Russian Revolution occurred in the so-called "April Days" after it became clear that the then presently constituted Provisional Government intended to continue participation on the Allied side in World War I and retain the territorial aspirations of the Czarist government in other guises. This led the vanguard of the Petrograd working class to make a premature attempt to bring down that government. However, the vanguard was isolated and did not have the authority needed to be successful at that time. The most that could be done was the elimination of the more egregious ministers. Part of the problem here is that no party, unlike the Bolsheviks in the events of the "July Days" has enough authority to hold the militants back, or try to. Theses events only underscore, in contrast to the anarchist position, the need for an organized revolutionary party to check such premature impulses. Even then, the Bolsheviks in July took the full brunt of the reaction by the government with the jailing of their leaders and suppression of their newspapers supported wholeheartedly by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionary Parties.

The Bolsheviks were probably the most revolutionary party in the history of revolutions. They certainly were the most consciously revolutionary in their commitment to political program, organizational form and organizational practices. Notwithstanding this, before the arrival in Petrograd of Lenin from exile the Bolshevik forces on the ground were, to put it mildly, floundering in their attitude toward political developments, especially their position on so-called critical support to the Provisional Government (read, Popular Front). Hence, in the middle of a revolutionary upsurge it was necessary to politically rearm the party. This political rearmament was necessary to expand the party’s concept of when and what forces would lead the current revolutionary upsurge. In short, mainly through Lenin’s intervention, the Party needed to revamp its old theory of "the democratic dictatorship of the working class and the peasantry" to the new conditions which placed the socialist program i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat on the immediate agenda. Informally, the Bolsheviks, or rather Lenin individually, came to the same conclusions that Trotsky had analyzed in his theory of Permanent Revolution prior to the Revolution of 1905. This reorientation was not done without a struggle in the party against those forces who did not want to separate with the reformist wing of the Russian workers and peasant parties, mainly the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries.

This should be a sobering warning to those who argue, mainly from an anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist position, that a revolutionary party is not necessary. The dilemma of correctly aligning strategy and tactics even with a truly revolutionary party can be problematic. The tragic outcome in Spain in the 1930’s abetted by the confusion on this issue by the Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) and the Durrutti-led left anarchists, the most honestly revolutionary organizations at the time, painfully underscores this point. This is why Trotsky came over to the Bolsheviks and why he drew that lesson on the organization question very sharply for the rest of his political career.

The old-fashioned, poorly trained, inadequately led peasant-based Russian Army took a real beating at the hands of the more modern, mechanized and disciplined German armies on the Eastern Front in World War I. The Russian Army, furthermore, was at the point of disintegration just prior to the February Revolution. Nevertheless, the desperate effort on the part of the peasant soldier, essentially declassed from his traditional role on the land by the military mobilization, was decisive in overthrowing the monarchy. Key peasant reserve units placed in urban garrisons, and thus in contact with the energized workers, participated in the struggle to end the war and get back to the take the land while they were still alive. Thus from February on, the peasant army through coercion or through inertia was no longer a reliable vehicle for any of the various combinations of provisional governmental ministries to use. In the Army’s final flare-up in defense, or in any case at least remaining neutral, of placing all power into Soviet hands it acted as a reserve, an important one, but nevertheless a reserve. Only later when the Whites in the Civil War came to try to take the land did the peasant soldier again exhibit a willingness to fight and die. Such circumstances as a vast peasant war are not a part of today’s revolutionary strategy, at least in advanced capitalist society. In fact, today only under exceptional conditions would a revolutionary socialist party support, much less advocate the popular Bolshevik slogan-‘land to the tiller’ to resolve the agrarian question. The need to split the armed forces, however, remains.

Not all revolutions exhibit the massive breakdown in discipline that occurred in the Russian army- the armed organ that defends any state- but it played an exceptional role here. However, in order for a revolution to be successful it is almost universally true that the existing governmental authority can no longer rely on normal troop discipline. If this did not ocassionally occur revolution generally would be impossible as untrained plebeians are no match for trained soldiers. Moreover, the Russian peasant army reserves were exceptional in that they responded to the general democratic demand for "land to the tiller" that the Bolsheviks were the only party to endorse and, moreover, were willing to carry out to the end. In the normal course of events the peasant, as a peasant on the land, cannot lead a modern revolution in even a marginally developed industrial state. It has more often been the bulwark for reaction; witness its role in the Paris Commune and Bulgaria in 1923, for examples, more than it has been a reliable ally of the urban masses. However, World War I put the peasant youth of Russia in uniform and gave them discipline, for a time at least, that they would not have otherwise had to play even a a subordinate role in the revolution. Later revolutions based on peasant armies, such as China, Cuba and Vietnam, confirm this notion that only exceptional circumstances, mainly as part of a military formation, permit the peasantry a progressive role in a modern revolution.

Trotsky is politically merciless toward the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary leaderships that provided the crucial support for the Provisional Governments between February and October in their various guises and through their various crises. Part of the support of these parties for the Provisional Government stemmed from their joint perspectives that the current revolution was a limited bourgeois one and so therefore they could no go further than the decrepit bourgeoisie of Russia was willing to go. Given its relationships with foreign capital that was not very far. Let us face it, these allegedly socialist organizations in the period from February to October betrayed the interest of their ranks on the question of immediate peace, of the redistribution of the land, and a democratic representative government.

This is particularly true after their clamor for the start of the ill-fated summer offensive on the Eastern Front and their evasive refusal to convene a Constituent Assembly to ratify the redistribution of the land. One can chart the slow but then rapid rise of Bolsheviks influence in places when they did not really exist when the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, formerly the influential parties of those areas, moved to the right. All those workers, peasants, soldiers, whatever political organizations they adhered to formally, who wanted to make a socialist revolution naturally gravitated to the Bolsheviks. Such movement to the left by the masses is always the case in times of crisis in a period of revolutionary upswing. The point is to channel that energy for the seizure of power.

The ‘August Days’ when the ex-Czarist General Kornilov attempted a counterrevolutionary coup and Kerensky, head of the Provisional Government, in desperation asked the Bolsheviks to use their influence to get the Kronstadt sailors to defend that government points to the ingenuity of the Bolshevik strategy. A point that has been much misunderstood since then, sometimes willfully, by many leftist groups is the Bolshevik tactic of military support- without giving political support- to bourgeois democratic forces in the struggle against right wing forces ready to overthrow democracy. The Bolsheviks gave Kerensky military support while at the same time politically agitating, particularly in the Soviets and within the garrison, to overthrow the Provisional Government.

Today, an approximation of this position would take the form of not supporting capitalist war budgets, parliamentary votes of no confidence, independent extra-parliamentary agitation and action, etc. Granted this principled policy on the part of the Bolsheviks is a very subtle maneuver but it is miles away from giving blanket military and political support to forces that you will eventually have to overthrow. The Spanish revolutionaries in the 1930’s, even the most honest grouped in the Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) learned this lesson the hard way when that party, despite its equivocal political attitude toward the popular front, was suppressed and the leadership jailed by the Negrin government despite having military units at the front in the fight against Franco.

As I write this review we are in the fourth year of the American-led Iraq war. For those who opposed that war from the beginning or have come to oppose it the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution shows the way to really end a fruitless and devastating war. In the final analysis if one really wants to end an imperialist war one has to overthrow the imperialist powers. This is a hard truth that most of even the best of today’s anti-war activists have been unable to grasp. It is not enough to plead, petition or come out in massive numbers to ask politely that the government stop its obvious irrational behavior. Those efforts are helpful for organizing the opposition but not to end the conflict on just terms. The Bolsheviks latched onto and unleashed the greatest anti-war movement in history to overthrow a government which was still committed to the Allied war effort against all reason. After taking power in the name of the Soviets, in which it had a majority, the Bolsheviks in one of its first acts pulled Russia out of the war. History provides no other way for us to stop imperialist war. Learn this lesson.

The Soviets, or workers councils, which sprang up first in the Revolution of 1905 and then almost automatically were resurrected after the February 1917 overturn of the monarchy, are merely a convenient and appropriate organization form for the structure of workers power. Communists and other pro-Communist militants, including this writer, have at times made a fetish of this organizational form because of its success in history. As an antidote to such fetishism a good way to look at this form is to note, as Trotsky did, that a Soviet led by Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries does not lead to the seizure of power. That tells the tale. This is why Lenin, in the summer of 1917, was looking to the factory committees as an alternative to jump-start the second phase of the revolution.

Contrary to the anarchist notion of merely local federated forms of organization or no organization, national Soviets are the necessary form of government in the post- seizure of power period. However, they may not be adequate for the task of seizing power. Each revolution necessarily develops its own forms of organization. In the Paris Commune of 1871 the Central Committee of the National Guard was the logical locus of governmental power. In the Spanish Civil War of 1936 the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias and the factory committees could have provided such a focus. Enough said.

For obvious tactical reasons it is better for a revolutionary party to take power in the name of a pan-class organization, like the Soviets, than in the name of a single party like the Bolsheviks. This brings up an interesting point because, as Trotsky notes, Lenin was willing to take power in the name of the party if conditions warranted it. Under the circumstances I believe that the Bolsheviks could have taken it in their own name but, and here I agree with Trotsky, that it would have been harder for them to keep it. Moreover, they had the majority in the All Russian Soviet and so it would be inexplicable if they took power solely in their own name. That, after a short and unsuccessful alliance with the Left Social Revolutionary Party in government, it came down to a single party does not negate this conclusion. Naturally, a pro-Soviet multi-party system where conflicting ideas of social organization along socialist lines can compete is the best situation. However, history is a cruel taskmaster at times. That, moreover, as the scholars say, is beyond the scope this review and the subject for further discussion.

The question of whether to seize power is a practical one for which no hard and fast rules apply. An exception is that it important to have the masses ready to go when the decision is made. In fact, it is probably not a bad idea to have the masses a little overeager to insurrect. One mistaken assumption, however, is that power can be taken at any time in a revolutionary period. As the events of the Russian Revolution demonstrate this is not true because the failure to have a revolutionary party ready to roll means that there is a fairly short window of opportunity. In Trotsky’s analysis this can come down to a period of days. In the actual case of Russia he postulated that that time was probably between late September and December. That analysis seems reasonable. In any case, one must have a feel for timing in revolution as well as in any other form of politics. The roll call of unsuccessful socialist revolutions in the 20th century in Germany, Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria, Spain, etc. only painfully highlights this point.

Many historians and political commentators have declared the Bolshevik seizure of power in October a coup d’etat. That is facile commentary. If one wants to do harm to the notion of a coup d’etat in the classic sense of a closed military conspiracy a la Blanqui this cannot stand up to examination. First, the Bolsheviks were an urban civilian party with at best tenuous ties to military knowledge and resources. Even simple military operations like the famous bank expropriations after the 1905 Revolution were mainly botched and gave them nothing but headaches with the leadership of the pre- World War I international social democracy. Secondly, and decisively, Bolshevik influence over the garrison in Petrograd and eventually elsewhere precluded such a necessity. Although, as Trotsky noted, conspiracy is an element of any insurrection this was in fact an ‘open’ conspiracy that even the Kerensky government had to realize was taking place. The Bolsheviks relied on the masses just as we should.

With almost a century of hindsight and knowing what we know now it is easy to see that the slender social basis for the establishment of Soviet power by the Bolsheviks in Russia was bound to create problems. Absent international working class revolution, particularly in Germany, which the Bolsheviks factored into their decisions to seize power, meant, of necessity, that there were going to be deformations even under a healthy workers regime. One, as we have painfully found out, cannot after all build socialism in one country. Nevertheless this begs the question whether at the time the Bolsheviks should have taken power. A quick look at the history of revolutions clearly points out those opportunities are infrequent. You do not get that many opportunities to seize power and try to change world history for the better so you best take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves.

As mentioned above, revolutionary history is mainly a chronicle of failed revolutionary opportunities. No, the hell with all that. Take working class power when you can and let the devil take the hinder post. Let us learn more than previous generations of revolutionaries, but be ready. This is one of the political textbooks you need to read if you want to change the world. Read it.