Trotskyism, What It Isn’t and What It Is!
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman, Encylopedia of Trotskyism On Line; full text: http://www.marx.org/history//etol/document/icl-spartacists/1990/trotskyism.html
This article was first published in Spartacist (German edition) No. 14, Winter 1989-90. There are two additions to the English text, one dealing with the “Trotskyist” revisionists as the political heirs of the London Bureau and the other with the role played by former American Healyite leader Tim Wohlforth against the struggle for authentic Trotskyism in the U.S. Other minor changes and corrections have also been made.
and to European and other militants
In East Germany, what had seemed to be the most entrenched Stalinist regime in Eastern Europe is crumbling under mass opposition to its rule. We Trotskyists of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) stand with all those in the DDR who are seeking to establish genuine socialist egalitarianism, through breaking the repressive political apparatus of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
We stand with those members and ex-members of the SED who defend the gains the working people achieved through the overthrow of capitalism. We stand for the communism of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party.
The “reformers” in the bureaucracy are promising “socialist renewal.” But Stalinism can’t deliver any kind of “renewal.” As an ideology Stalinism is simply an apology for the rule of the bureaucracy. Its slogans and “debates” are but arguments about how to put the best false face on the policies of betrayal. Without state power, Stalinist ideology is an empty shell, devoid of any relevance to the question of proletarian power.
The bureaucracy headed by J.V. Stalin arose from the devastation and atomization of the Russian working class in the Civil War and from the failure and defeat of the proletarian revolution internationally — particularly the 1923 German Revolution. Lenin’s program of proletarian internationalism — concretely embodied in the understanding that the survival of the October Revolution depended on its extension through working-class revolution, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries — was dumped and replaced by the Stalinist “theory” of “socialism in one country.”
To consolidate its rule the bureaucracy had to destroy the entire leadership of the Bolshevik Party that had made the 1917 Russian Revolution. Millions of Communists were murdered. During the Moscow Trials false “confessions” were extracted from Stalin’s victims — not simply through sheer police-state terror but through the belief of many of the victims that in going along with Stalin’s monstrous accusations they were “serving the Revolution.”
In his memoirs Leopold Trepper — the founder and leader of the Soviet “Red Orchestra” espionage network in Nazi-occupied Europe, whose heroism was “rewarded” with ten years in Lubianka — damned “all those who did not rise up against the Stalinist machine.” In answer to “who did protest at that time?” Trepper, who was not a Trotskyist but a Polish Jewish Communist, wrote:
The Trotskyists knew that Stalinism — the bureaucratic stranglehold over economic, political and cultural life in the Soviet Union, the betrayal of revolutionary struggle and appeasement of imperialism internationally—was not communism but its antithesis. And they knew that rather than “serving the Revolution” this parasitic bureaucratic caste endangered the very survival of the Russian Revolution.
“The Trotskyites can lay claim to this honor. Following the example of their leader, who was rewarded for his obstinacy with the end of an ice-axe, they fought Stalinism to the death, and they were the only ones who did....
“Today, the Trotskyites have a right to accuse those who once howled along with the wolves. Let them not forget, however, that they had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profoundndistress at seeing the revolution betrayed. They did not ‘confess,’ for they knew that their confession would serve neither the party nor socialism.”
—The Great Game (1977)
Trotsky analyzed both the social conditions which led to the rise of Stalinism and the instabilities and contradictions inherent in the rule of this bureaucratic caste — which is simultaneously dependent on the collectivized property forms of the workers state and reflects and acts as the transmitting mechanism for the pressures of imperialism in undermining the workers state. Trotsky foresaw that this balancing act was inherently unstable; the contradiction must be resolved either in the direction of capitalist restoration, or by proletarian political revolution against the bureaucracy to restore state power to the working class, organized on the basis of internationalist soviet democracy. In his work (most systematically in The Revolution Betrayed, written in 1936) Trotsky analyzed the Stalinist deformation of Soviet society and proved scientifically that Russia was not “socialist” nor was it moving in that direction.
He demonstrated that wage differentials among the layers of the working people had sharply increased, and contrasted to the Marxist understanding of the gradual “withering away of the state” in the progress toward socialism the cancerous growth of Stalin’s monstrous apparatus of police-state repression. He castigated the social conservatism of the bureaucracy, documenting for example the reversal of Bolshevik policies aimed at securing for women equal participation in social and economic life. He analyzed the bureaucratic disorganization of economic life and the demoralizing effect on the working people of the display of the privileges of the bureaucratic elite and wrote:
“Under a nationalized economy, quality demands a democracy of producers and consumers, freedom of criticism and initiative — conditions incompatible with a totalitarian regime of fear, lies and flattery.”And reasserting the once-common Leninist understanding that socialism is and must be an international system, Trotsky insisted that the looming Second World War and the prospect of social convulsions in the capitalist countries would also shake the brittle Stalinist regime to its foundations.
More than 50 years ago, Trotsky predicted the unraveling of Stalinist bureaucratic rule which is now being seen from Prague to Beijing. In Poland, decades of Stalinist economic mismanagement, corruption and stultifying bureaucratic repressiveness deprived the regime of any moral authority to combat the restorationist schemes of international finance capital and the Vatican; the bankruptcy of Stalinism in Poland has now resulted in the election of an openly counterrevolutionary Solidarność government. In East Germany, where a Tiananmen-style massacre was narrowly averted, members and former members of the SED have demonstrated in the streets under banners demanding “Return to Lenin,” but in other demonstrations ominous revanchist slogans have also made their appearance.
In the Soviet Union, where Gorbachev now faces opposition from miners and other workers resisting the effects of perestroika, the regime’s fostering of “market socialism” has unleashed deadly conflict between the republics, as the better-off areas seek to benefit at the expense of their neighbors; from the bloody conflicts in the Caucasus, to the Baltic nationalists who carry the flags of the “independent” imperialist-puppet interwar regimes, to the Great Russian chauvinists and anti-Semites of the sinister Pamyat, these forces threaten the dismemberment of the multinational USSR. In China, where “market socialism” has achieved its fullest expression accompanied by enormous social dislocation, the accumulation of vast private fortunes and a huge increase in the gap between rich and poor in the cities and countryside, it was the entry of discontented workers into the student-initiated pro-democracy protests that precipitated the government’s Tiananmen massacre.
Trotsky was a leader, together with Lenin, of the Bolshevik Revolution. He founded and led the Red Army that defeated the forces of counterrevolution during the Civil War. Decades of Stalinist lies and calumnies against Trotsky and the physical obliteration of his supporters in the Soviet Union ultimately did not succeed in burying this history. The Gorbachev bureaucracy of Stalin’s heirs today encompasses a substantial layer of “Western-oriented” intelligentsia, mainly the sons and daughters of the bureaucracy, which was getting pretty tired of sitting down to sip champagne with Western “academic Marxists” and U.S. State Department hacks only to be confronted with gibes about the yawning “blank spaces” of Soviet history. Thus glasnost—although intended centrally to facilitate perestroika against the resistance of bureaucratic conservatives as well as to rehabilitate Nikolai Bukharin, the leader of the Right Opposition whose policies in many ways prefigured “market socialism” — has also generated pressure toward removing the figure of Trotsky from the realm of demonology and restoring him to official Soviet history.
Of course it is a welcome turn of events if the heirs of Stalin are forced to try to rehabilitate themselves by acknowledging what “everybody knows” to be the truth. But Trotskyism isn’t just “history,” it is the program of struggle to preserve and carry forward the heritage of Leninism — the rule of the proletariat organized on the basis of Soviet democracy and the struggle for world socialist revolution—against the fierce resistance of the bourgeoisie and their social-democratic lackeys and against the perversion and betrayal of Leninism by the Stalinist usurpers.
While Stalinism was created as an ideology to justify the existence of a privileged bureaucratic caste and has survived solely on the material basis of holding state power, Trotskyism has a political vitality. As Trotsky wrote in the founding document of the Fourth International,
“its indestructible force stems from the fact that it expresses not onlyWith the 1945 victory of the Allied imperialists and Stalin’s Russia over Hitler, the postwar world took shape. The Communist parties in capitalist West Europe worked overtime to derail the possibility of socialist revolutions there, while in East Germany and throughout Eastern Europe capitalism was abolished by the Red Army from the top down. What was excluded in both cases was the revolutionary mobilization of the working people. Eastern Europe was freed from its pro-Nazi ruling classes and from capitalist exploitation, but the working class was politically padlocked and well aware that the Soviet military held the decisive levers of power. Today Gorbachev, impelled by his own internal problems, has turned the key and Eastern Europe is exploding with political ferment — from all quarters, in every conceivable direction from outright capitalist restorationists to anti-bureaucratic Communists.
revolutionary tradition but also today’s actual opposition of the Russian working class. The social hatred stored up by the workers against the bureaucracy—this is precisely what from the viewpoint of the Kremlin clique constitutes ‘Trotskyism’.”
Today, with everyone from Gorbachev on down willing to say bad things about “Stalinism,” there is a renewal of interest in Trotsky — although few really know what he stood for (since his life and work have been both hidden and lied about for decades in the “official” histories). Now seeking to intervene into the events in East Germany are numerous claimants to the mantle of Trotskyism hoping to trade on his revolutionary heritage. The question is: how are people who have been deprived of any knowledge of “Trotskyism” supposed to be able to tell the real thing as opposed to the fakers and pretenders? To assist we will offer a little history.
I. Leon Trotsky and the Coming of World War II
The Foundation of Trotsky’s Fourth International
In 1938, on the eve of World War II, Trotsky proclaimed the founding of a new revolutionary International in the urgent attempt to resolve the “crisis of leadership” that had left the international proletariat defenseless before fascism and imperialist carnage. Hitler’s Nazis had come to power in Germany unopposed by the Stalinists or the Social Democrats who overwhelmingly commanded the allegiance of the powerful German workers movement. That this crime did not provoke fights and splits within the Communist parties internationally led the Trotskyists to conclude there was no place for revolutionaries in the Stalinized Third International. This conclusion was compounded by the CI’s policy of the “People’s Front,” of allying the workers movement with the parties of so-called “democratic” imperialism.
The Transitional Program, the founding document of Trotsky’s Fourth International, was the continuation and extension of the program that had led to the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution. It upheld Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” which was confirmed in the course of the Russian Revolution — that in the epoch of imperialism in underdeveloped countries even the most elementary bourgeois-democratic tasks can only be accomplished by the working class taking power at the head of the oppressed masses.
Against the betrayal of proletarian struggle to the “People’s Front,” the Transitional Program reasserted the fundamental Marxist principle of the unconditional independence of the working class from its capitalist exploiters and oppressors. It was under this banner, embodied in the slogan “Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers! All Power to the Soviets!”, that Lenin and Trotsky led the proletariat to power in 1917.
The Trotskyists steadfastly stood for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution, despite the Stalinist misrulers. At the same time the Fourth International understood that this defense also required a proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucrats who had robbed political power from the working masses and whose hideously repressive, nationalist rule threatened the conquests of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky called for the return to the working people of their state through restoring the rule of Soviets (councils of workers and soldiers) and sought to mobilize the Soviet working masses against the bureaucracy on the basis of the socialist egalitarianism and revolutionary internationalism that were the foundation of the Russian workers state.
For all their youth, inexperience and episodic disorientation, the small forces of Trotskyist cadre fought with courage and audacity during the war to carry out this program. American Trotskyists risked their lives to sail on the Murmansk run to get their propaganda into the hands of Russian workers and soldiers. The 1945 Saigon uprising was led by Vietnamese Trotskyists. In the far-flung colonial empires of the Allies, particularly Indochina and the Indian subcontinent, currents identified with Trotskyism had a strong appeal to advanced workers and independence fighters, as against the Stalinist parties — bound to the bloc on a world scale with the “anti-fascist” colonial imperialist camp — which had to rein in mass struggles against the imperialist masters.
The Dutch Trotskyists struggled, with great capacity and few cadre, in illegality during the Nazi occupation of Holland. As early as 1943, with Germany already decisively defeated but with no Allied imperialist landings having taken place yet, they saw that it was a race against the clock between European working-class revolutions and an Allied-led counterrevolution leading to the division of Europe between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin which would work against the revival of the German workers movement at the war’s end.
There are more examples of the heroism of the forces of the Fourth International in the face of overwhelming odds. But by the end of the war, large numbers of Trotskyist cadre had been wiped out by war and repression. Many were murdered by the Stalinists.
The 4 August 1914 betrayal of the German Social Democrats, who in the face of war went over to the side of their “own” ruling class, has been repeated many times in the workers movement. In World War II. the Stalinist Communist parties allied with one gang of imperialist warmongers, opposing working-class struggle in the “Allied” countries as treason to the so-called “Great Patriotic War Against Fascism.”
The Trotskyists recognized that the war was not a struggle between “democratic” imperialism and fascism but an interimperialist conflict aimed at the redivision of the world. Toward the imperialist powers the Trotskyists were, as Lenin was in World War I, revolutionary defeatist. At the same time, they called on the international working class to militarily defend the Soviet Union.
Nonetheless, although on a smaller scale, the second imperialist war also produced deformations in and defections from the Trotskyist movement. In the U.S. party, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact together with the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland and the invasion of Finland produced an opposition which renounced defense of the Soviet Union in adaptation to a frenzied outcry of petty-bourgeois public opinion over the supposed violation of “poor little Finland” and the identification of Stalinism with fascism.
Up until the outbreak of the war, the SWP opposition led by Max Shachtman and James Burnham had declared that they too stood for the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack, despite the Stalinist bureaucracy. They did not shrink from this position when the Stalinists betrayed the workers by strangling the forces for proletarian revolution during the Spanish Civil War. But at that time the Kremlin’s participation in the Republican camp was supported by bourgeois democrats around the world. In 1939-40 when the question of the defense of the Soviet Union was posed in the concrete, the opposition “welched on their promise,” to use the words of SWP leader James P. Cannon.
Trotsky played a major role in the ensuing faction fight in the American party. The close collaboration of Trotsky, combined with the fact that the SWP, unlike other sections of the Fourth International, was not directly subjected to the ravages of the war, made the fight with the anti-Soviet opposition a surrogate for such a struggle throughout the international Trotskyist movement.
The Shachtman-led minority split from the organization. Over the years, and heightened under the pressures of the Cold War, they evolved into anti-Soviet “socialist” advisers to the State Department and the CIA. At the time of America’s 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, Shachtman gave a speech alibiing the counterrevolutionary invaders as including some “good stout working class fighters” who were fighting Stalinist “totalitarianism.”
When on 17 June 1953 the East German workers were the first to rise up against Stalinism, they immeasurably assisted authentic socialists in the West to reject the blandishments of “State Department socialism.” The monstrous crimes of Stalinism — the purge trials and labor camps – facilitated the fake-“democratic” pretensions of imperialism, and the onset of the Cold War unleashed a barrage of bourgeois “political theorists” (exemplified by Hannah Arendt) arguing that Stalinist totalitarianism had reduced the workers of the Soviet bloc to mindless, soulless slaves rendered now and forever incapable of struggle. Therefore, they argued, partisans of the workers’ struggle should be in the front ranks of the new imperialist crusade against Stalinism. The East German workers, by their revolutionary action, punctured this myth and made it possible for those Western radicals who wanted to do so to make an aggressive counterthrust against imperialist propaganda. But of course many “radicals” wanted only to continue their bloc with their own bourgeoisie.
The Sozialistische Arbeitergruppe (SAG) are the direct heirs of Max Shachtman. Their British leader Tony Cliff split from the Trotskyist movement in 1950, refusing to defend the North Korean deformed workers state against U.S. imperialism. Today, the SAG sees the mass protests in East Germany as an uprising against “capitalist” exploitation. For them, there are no social gains to be defended in the collectivized property forms that exist in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Like Shachtman, this position has led the SAG not only into supporting some of the darkest forces of imperialist reaction but into offering them as a model for struggle against Stalinist “totalitarianism.” Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Cliffites cheered on the CIA-funded mujahedin who were preparing to drown any and every element of social progress in blood, with declarations that a “Mojahedin victory will encourage the opponents of Russian rule everywhere in the USSR and Eastern Europe” (Socialist Worker, 4 February 1989)! It is small wonder that the SAG has attracted to its ranks many skinheads, among the most loathsome SA-type [Sturm-abteilung] expressions of resurgent German nationalism and imperialist revanchism.
The British Workers Power organization and its League for a Revolutionary Communist International (in West Germany the Gruppe Arbeitermacht and the Gruppe ArbeiterInnenstandpunkt in Austria) drifted left from its origins in the Cliff organization. Workers Power has done such things as supporting the Ayatollah Khomeini in his struggle for power and initially in his war with Iraq. They also “critically” championed Solidarność while admitting that if Lech Walesa & Co. should conquer it would mean capitalist restoration. Now that there is a Solidarność-led government, Workers Power pathetically opines, “Poland: No Return to Capitalism”!
Most recently this outfit tried out the nasty practice of calling upon capitalist governments to throw out the ambassadors from “bad” deformed workers states. As far as we know only one of the groups that adhere to the LRCI’s “democratic-centralist” international did this, the Irish Workers Group who called on the southern Irish Republic to throw out the Chinese ambassador as a statement of “solidarity” with those murdered by the Chinese Stalinists in Tiananmen Square. Of course if pushed by tens of thousands of students defending a woman’s right to abortion, the government of the Irish Republic would probably want to pull its own Tiananmen Square to stop the demon of dissolute youth desecrating the values, most sacred to the government forces, upon which this bourgeois-clericalist state was formed.
II. The Cold War and “Trotskyist” Revisionism
In Europe, the decimation of Trotskyist cadre during the war combined with events in the aftermath of the war led to the emergence of a revisionist current within the Fourth International. Trotsky had predicted that the war would provoke social convulsions throughout the capitalist world, as the First World War had done, which would necessarily have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the Stalinist bureaucracies.
Trotsky’s warning that Stalinism posed a deadly danger to the USSR’s very survival was borne out in the initial collapse of the Red Army, which had been decapitated by Stalin, in the face of Hitler’s invasion, before the Soviet masses rallied to the defense of their country (ultimately, 20 million Soviet citizens gave their lives in the smashing of Hitler’s armies on the Eastern Front). Trotsky’s predictions of renewed capitalist crisis were fully confirmed by the objective situation at the end of the war, as the old imperial powers of Europe were militarily devastated and politically tainted with fascism, the ties to their colonial empires disrupted or shattered. All that remained was to throw them out and the means were in the hands of the proletariat.
Instead Stalin propped up his “democratic” Western allies. In Italy and Greece, naked treachery was required to militarily and politically disarm the Resistance forces and hand power back to the capitalist class. In France, the Stalinists had to work overtime as proponents of capitalist “national reconstruction” in order to establish a stable bourgeois regime.
A postwar development unanticipated by Trotsky was the expansion of Stalinist-ruled states in Eastern Europe. With the military victory of the Red Army over the Nazis and their puppet regimes, the former rulers fled to the nearest American headquarters leaving behind a power vacuum which was filled by the Soviet army. Confronted with the onset of the Cold War, the Stalinists were forced to establish deformed workers states in these countries as a “buffer zone.”
These deformed workers states, which carried out the expropriation of these ruling classes whose power was broken when Hitler’s Nazis were smashed, were established without revolutions (with the exception of Yugoslavia, where Tito’s partisans prevailed in a peasant guerrilla war). These were cold social revolutions from the top down. The Soviet military forces were the state power; they established governments of the Walter Ulbrichts, the surviving Stalinist hacks who arrived back in Germany from Moscow and set up the SED in 1946 as the ruling party whose “leading role” was until just recently prescribed in the DDR constitution. The structures set up paralleled those which issued from the Stalinist degeneration of the USSR. Thus the expansion of “Soviet-bloc” states was at the same time a padlock and chain on the working class — a chain which despite episodic workers’ struggles was in place for four decades but has now been broken.
Just as the stabilization of capitalist imperialism with the containment of the “Russian menace” was at the root of Stalinism afer World War II the revisionist current which arose in the Trotskyist movement (under the leadership of the impressionist Michel Pablo) adapted to the apparent stability and geographical extension of Stalinism. The ascendancy of this revisionist current destroyed the Fourth International as the nucleus of a disciplined world party of socialist revolution (which has not prevented assorted pretenders to “Trotskyism” from claiming to be “the Fourth International” when it suits them).
Worshipping the accomplished fact of Stalinism’s survival, the Pabloists projected a “new world reality” of “centuries of deformed workers states” and opined that under mass pressure the Stalinist parties could be forced to play an “objectively revolutionary role.” The need for revolutionary Trotskyist parties to lead the struggle for socialist revolution in the West and for political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracies was thus obviated. Today the main continuators of this revisionist current are the “United Secretariat” (USec) led by Ernest Mandel.
At the time of the 17 June 1953 uprising in East Germany the Mandelites advocated the self-reform of the bureaucracy under the slogan for the “real democratization of the Communist Parties.” Three years later they backed away from the Hungarian workers who had risen up against the bureaucratic rulers and their hated secret police. At the time, they wrote that the absence of political leadership in Hungary provoked “exactly those shortcomings and dangers” which had been avoided in Poland “thanks to the leadership role” played by “the Gomulka tendency” (Quatrième Internationale, December 1956)!
In the 1960s the United Secretariat adapted to every petty-bourgeois radical craze. They wrote off the working class in the West as hopelessly bought off and counter-posed the idea that “red universities” would be oases of revolution in a supposed sea of stagnant proletarian reaction. They passed through a period of vicarious pick-up-the-gun guerrillaism. Junking Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, they postured as armchair Che Guevaras.
Enthusing over the Vietnamese NLF, in his book Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien (Paris 1973) French USec leader Pierre Rousset did not condemn the murder of the Vietnamese Trotskyists by the Vietnamese Stalinists but rather whitewashed these assassinations with the explanation that they showed “the width of the political gulf which then separated the Trotskyist groups from the Indochinese CP, the former probably underestimating the importance of the national question in the revolutionary mobilization of the masses, the latter profoundly underestimating the social question in the colonial revolution.”
Since Rousset also heralded the NLF leadership as having “assimilated the decisive implications of the permanent revolution,” their murder of the Vietnamese Trotskyists was alibied as simply an unfortunate mistake.
In the mid-1970s the USec refused to even recognize the existence of the surviving Vietnamese Trotskyists in exile, who had asked for recognition as the USec’s Vietnamese section.
In the name of “anti-imperialism,” the Mandelites and their cothinkers served as uncritical apologists for the bourgeois-nationalist FLN in Algeria, about whom they enthused for many years; Michel Pablo was a senior adviser to the head of state, while the American SWP’s Joseph Hansen touted the brutal Algerian regime as a “workers and peasants government.”
Like Max Shachtman, the USec was ever sensitive to petty-bourgeois public opinion. With the first hint of “Cold War II,” as imperialism went back on the offensive after its humiliating defeat in Vietnam, the Mandelites beat a retreat from former pro-Stalinist enthusiasm over to tailing “Eurocommunism,” voting for the installation of the most viciously anti-Communist popular-front governments like that of French “Socialist” François Mitterrand, and defending any and all manner of pro-Western Soviet “dissidents.”
In the early 1980s, they joined with the pro-NATO social democrats in going all out in support of Solidarność in Poland. From hailing Gomulka, whose policies began the process of mortgaging the Polish economy to West German bankers, decollectivization of agriculture and conciliation of the Catholic church, the USec went over to hailing a movement for capitalist restoration as a “political revolution” against the Stalinist bureaucracy.
Having championed any and every opposition to the Soviet government, the Mandelites have recently found occasion to embrace the fascistic fringe of Baltic nationalist movements which in the guise of “independence” are seeking a vicious capitalist restoration. This September, the USec’s journal International Viewpoint ran an article praising the Estonian Nazi “Forest Brothers” as “freedom fighters” in the “struggle against Stalinism.”
Now the USec counters the imperialists’ proclamations of the “death of Communism” by correctly pointing out that “what is dying is Stalinism.” But this rings pretty hollow coming from the mouths of people who three decades ago predicted that Stalinism would survive for “centuries” and adapted their politics accordingly. Now Mandel, who in the 1953 uprising of workers in East Germany saw a wing of the bureaucracy as a solution, trumpets the “upsurge of the mass movement rocking the GDR.” He talks of the need for a “politically capable vanguard” to “open the way for the victory and consolidation of the political revolution.” Don’t buy it. Mandel and his followers have heralded everything from university students in the West to the mullahs in Iran to Lech Walesa as the “vanguard.”
At a rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Trotsky’s Fourth International in New York City, Claudio Magnani representing the United Secretariat openly admitted: “We committed many mistakes, big mistakes, terrible mistakes” (printed in Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, December 1988). Mandel’s USec is shamelessly opportunist, wildly impressionistic and given to extreme vacillations in line — a chronic instability that reflects the lack of a programmatic anchor. What differentiates Bolshevism from these centrist impostors is the ability to “swim against the stream” when the masses are being misled against the historic interests of the proletariat. There would have been no October Revolution if Lenin’s party had submerged itself in the sea of social-chauvinism that inundated the Russian workers at the start of World War I. But Lenin persevered, and three years later the Bolsheviks achieved state power.
The various revisionists who claim the name of “Trotskyism” — like Mandel’s United Secretariat, Tony Cliff’s organization and Workers Power’s League for a Revolutionary Communist International — have followed the general political pattern established by Max Shachtman in both reflecting and capitulating to alien class pressures. In the postwar period they have come to occupy roughly the same political niche as that of the “London Bureau” in the 1930s.
The London Bureau (also known as the London-Amsterdam Bureau or the International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity) was a lash-up of centrist organizations including, at one time or another, the German Socialist Workers Party (SAP), the Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP, later the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party, RSAP), the British Independent Labour Party and the Spanish POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification), who were driven by despair and distrust of the Second and Third Internationals following Hitler’s victory in Germany.
As Trotsky noted in his 1934 article “Centrism and the Fourth International,” the coming to power of the Nazis, followed by the bloody defeat of the 1934 general strike in Austria in which hundreds of workers were killed and thousands more imprisoned, “placed a final cross over ‘classic’ reformism,” i.e., the perspective of peaceful, parliamentary “evolution” to socialism. Open reformism was supplanted by various shadings of centrism. The Trotskyist Left Opposition energetically sought to intersect and win over elements from these centrist currents but for the most part was unable to overcome programmatically the congenital reformism of these organizations.
Writing of the irresolution and chronic vacillations of the organizations in the London Bureau, the refusal to draw revolutionary conclusions posed by the impending war and increasing political ferment among the working class, Trotsky predicted, “The failure of this group is absolutely inevitable.” The London Bureau collapsed on the eve of World War II. Many of its former leaders, such as Willy Brandt, Marcel Pivert and Fenner Brockway, returned to social democracy.