From Fourth International, Vol.15 No.1, Winter 1954, pp.9-16, from Tamiment Library microfilm archives.
Transcribed & marked up by Andrew Pollack for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
SINCE the death of Stalin, some of the unofficial and pseudo-critical apologists of Stalinism have begun to shift their ground without abandoning their office as apologists. Yesterday they were describing Stalinism as the wave of the future. They now promise an early end to Stalinism in the Soviet Union; and – for good measure – they assure us that the end will come easily and peacefully. What interests us is the fact that, in doing so, they refer to Trotsky and try, in one way or another, to invoke his authority in support of their new revelations.
There is indeed no room for doubt that Stalinism is in deep trouble in its own domain. The events in the Soviet Union and in the satellite countries since Stalin’s death are convincing evidence of that. The workers’ revolts in East Germany and other satellite lands, which undoubtedly reflect the sentiments of the workers in the Soviet Union, indicate that the Stalinist bureaucracy rules without real mass support.
The crisis of Stalinism is reflected in the reactions of the bureaucracy to the new situation. The frantic alternation of concessions and repressions, the fervent promises of democratic reforms, combined with the start of new blood purges, are the characteristic reactions of a regime in mortal crisis. The assumption is justified that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Stalinism.
But how will this end be brought about? Will the Stalinist bureaucracy, the chief prop of world capitalism, the pre – eminent conservative and counter-revolutionary force for a quarter of a century, fall of its own weight? Will it disappear in a gradual process of voluntary self-reform? Or will it be overthrown by a revolutionary uprising of the workers in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe?
These are the most important questions of the day for the disciples of Trotsky; for different answers necessarily imply profoundly different lines of political action. And it is precisely because we hear conflicting answers to these questions that the present factional struggle in the Fourth International has broken out into the open and taken an irreconcilable form. What is involved is an attempt to revise the theory of Trotsky – which up till now has been the guiding line for the political strategy and tactics of our movement – without openly saying so.
This sort of thing has happened before. In setting out, in his pamphlet on State and Revolution, “to resuscitate the real teaching of Marx on the state,” Lenin remarked:
“What is now happening to Marx’s doctrine has, in the course of history, often happened to the doctrines of other revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes struggling for emancipation . . . After their death, attempts are made to turn them into harmless icons, canonize them, and surround their names with a certain halo for the ’consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping them, while at the same time emasculating and vulgarizing the real essence of their revolutionary theories and blunting their revolutionary edge. At the present time, the bourgeoisie and the opportunists within the labor movement are co-operating in this work of adulterating Marxism. They omit, obliterate and distort the revolutionary side of its teaching, its revolutionary soul.”
“His name was ‘canonized’ by the Stalinists while his real teachings were defiled.”
Lenin’s forewarning did not prevent the Stalinists from performing the same mutilating operation on his own teachings after his death. Lenin’s name was “canonized” while his real teachings were defiled. Trotsky’s historic battle against Stalinism, the greatest theoretical and political struggle of all time, was in essence a struggle to “resuscitate” “genuine Leninism. The embattled Left Opposition in the Soviet Union fought under the slogan: “Back to Lenin!“
Now, in the course of time, the teachings of Trotsky himself have been placed on the revisionist operating table, and the fight for the revolutionary program once again takes the form of a defense of orthodox principles. For the third time in the hundred-year history of Marxist thought, an attempt is being made to revise away its revolutionary essence, while professing respect for its outward form.
Just as the Social Democrats mutilated the teachings of Marx, and the Stalinists did the same thing with the teachings of Lenin, the new revisionists are attempting to butcher the teachings of Trotsky, while pretending, at the same time, to refer to his authority. This pretense is imposed on them by the simple and obvious fact that Trotsky’s theory of post-Lenin developments in the Soviet Union is the only one that has any standing among revolutionists. It would be quite useless to refer to any other “authorities.” There are none.
The new revisionism has many aspects. Here I will deal with the central core of it: the revision of the Trotskyist analysis of Stalinism and its perspectives in the Soviet Union. This is the central question for the simple reason that it has the most profound implication for the policy of our movement in all fields.
Since its foundation, the Fourth International has recognized Stalinism as the main support of world capitalism and the chief obstacle in the workers’ movement to the emancipating revolution of the workers. Trotsky taught us that, and all experience has abundantly confirmed it. The Fourth International has been governed in its policy with respect to Stalinism in the Soviet Union, and to the Stalinist parties in the other countries, by this basic theory of Trotsky.
The policy cannot be separated from the theoretical analysis; a revision of the theory could not fail to impose deep-going changes in the policy. As a matter of fact, questions of policy, including the not unimportant question of the historical function of the Fourth International and its right to exist – cannot be fruitfully discussed between those who disagree on the nature of Stalinism in the present stage of its evolution, and its prospects, and therewith on the attitude of our movement toward it. Different answers to the former inexorably impose different proposals for the latter. The discussion becomes a fight right away. Experience has already shown that.
The originator and fountainhead of the new revisionism, the modern successor to Bernstein and Stalin in this shady game, is a Polish former communist, named Isaac Deutscher, who passed through the outskirts of the Trotskyist movement on his way to citizenship in the British Empire.
The British bourgeoisie are widely publicizing his writings; and it is not far-fetched to say that their tactical attitude toward the Malenkov regime – somewhat different from that of Washington – is partly influenced by them. The British bourgeoisie are more desperate than their American counterparts, more conscious of the realities of the new world situation, and they feel the need of a more subtle theory than that of McCarthy and Dulles. The political thinkers of the British ruling class long ago abandoned any real hope for the return of former glories; to say nothing of a new expansion of their prosperity and power. Their maximum hope is to hang on, to preserve a part of their loot, and to put off and postpone their day of doom as long as possible. This determines their current short-term foreign policy.
To be sure, the long-term program of the British bourgeoisie is the same as that of their American cousins. Their basic aim also is nothing less than a capitalist restoration by military action, but they are less sanguine about its prospects for success at the present time. Meantime, they want to “muddle through” with a stop-gap policy of partial agreement, “co-existence” and trade with the Malenkov regime.
Churchill and those for whom he speaks, sense that the overthrow of Stalinism by a workers’ political revolution, re-enforcing the Soviet economic system by the creative powers of workers’ democracy, would only make matters worse for them, and for world capitalism as a whole, and they are not in favor of it. That’s why they saw nothing good about the uprising in East Germany, and opposed any action to encourage it. Far from wishing to provoke or help such a revolution, the British bourgeoisie would be interested, without doubt, in supporting Malenkov against it.
There is scarcely less doubt that, in the final extremity, the main section of the Soviet bureaucracy, concerned above all with their privileges, would ally themselves with the imperialists against the workers’ revolution. The British bourgeoisie have that in mind too; and that’s why they are giving an attentive hearing to the new revelations of Deutscher, who promises that Malenkov will avert a domestic workers’ revolution by a progressive series of reforms and that he will follow a policy of coexistence, peace and trade with the capitalist world.
“... senses that the overthrow of Stalinism by a workers’ revolution would only make matters worse for the British bourgeoisie.”
What the British imperialists think of Deutscher’s theory is their own affair, and it is not our duty to advise them. Our interest in Deutscher derives from the evident fact that his theory of the self-reform of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which he tries to pass off as a modified version of Trotsky’s thinking, has made its way into the movement of the Fourth International and found camouflaged supporters there in the faction headed by Pablo. Far from originating anything themselves, the Pablo faction have simply borrowed from Deutscher.
Since there is no surer way to disarm the workers’ vanguard, particularly in the Soviet Union, and to reason away the claim of the Fourth International to any historical function, this new revisionism has become problem number one for our international movement. The life of the Fourth International is at stake in the factional struggle and discussion provoked by it. The right way to begin the discussion, in our opinion, is to trace the revisionist current in our movement to its source. That takes us straight to Deutscher.
The new revisionism made it’s first appearance a few years ago in Deutscher’s biography of Stalin (1949). In this book he took from Trotsky the thesis that the nationalization of industry and planned economy, as developed in the Soviet Union after the October Revolution, are historically progressive developments. Then, having tipped his hat to one part of Trotsky’s theory, he proceeded, like his revisionist predecessors, ’to “omit, obliterate, and distort the revolutionary side of its teaching, its revolutionary soul.”
In order to do this he identified nationalization and planned economy, made possible and necessary by the October Revolution, with Stalinism, the betrayer of the Revolution and the murderer of the revolutionists. To be sure, he deplored the frame-ups and mass murders of the old revolutionists, but tended to dismiss them as unfortunate incidents which did not change the basically progressive historical role of Stalinism. At that time (1949) he visualized the world-wide expansion of Stalinism, equating it with the expansion of the international revolution.
This revelation of Deutscher was a made-to-order rationalization for the fellow-travelers of Stalinism, who were wont to excuse the mass murders of revolutionists with the nonchalant remark: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” Deutscher’s theory, enunciated in his biography of Stalin, also found slightly muted echoes in the ranks of the Fourth International. Pablo’s strategical and tactical improvisations, including his forecast of “centuries” of “deformed workers states” began from there.
With the death of Stalin, however, and the shake-up which followed it, Deutscher changed his first estimate of the prospects of Stalinism. And again he referred to a part of Trotskyism, in order to distort and misrepresent Trotsky’s most fundamental teaching on the next stage of developments of the Soviet Union.
This would appear to be a rather foolhardy undertaking, for Trotsky’s teachings are no secret and no mystery. They are all written down and are known to his disciples. Moreover, like all of Trotsky’s works, they conveyed his thought with such clarity and precision that nobody could misunderstand it. Contrary to the whole tribe of revisionist double-talkers, Trotsky always said what he meant, and our movement has no record of any quarrel or controversy as to the “interpretation” of his meaning during his lifetime.
The best and most effective way to answer and refute misinterpreters of Trotsky’s theory of Stalinism, who have made their appearance since his death, is simply to quote Trotsky’s own words. They are all in print, and all quotations are subject to verification. Therefore, before taking up Deutscher’s distortions of Trotsky, I will first let Trotsky speak for himself.
It took the Soviet bureaucracy a long time to complete its political counter-revolution and to consolidate its power and privileges, and Trotsky followed its evolution at every step. He analyzed Stalinism at every stage of its development, and prescribed the tasks of the struggle against it on the basis of the real situation at each given stage of its development. These tasks, as Trotsky prescribed them, changed with each change in the situation, and were so motivated. To understand Trotsky’s theory it is necessary to follow the evolution of his thought from one stage of Soviet development to another.
For the first ten years of his historic battle against the degeneration he held that Soviet democracy could he restored by an internal party struggle for the peaceful reform of the party. As late as 1931 he said:
“The proletarian vanguard retains the possibility of putting the bureaucracy in its place, of subordinating it to its control, of insuring the correct policy, and by means of decisive and bold reforms, of regenerating the party, the trade unions, and the Soviets.” (Problems of the Development of the USSR. Emphasis added.)
In October 1933, when the bureaucracy had further “concentrated all power and all avenues to power in its hands,” he called for a new Soviet party of the Fourth International, to lead “the reorganization of the Soviet state” by extra-constitutional methods. He wrote at that time:
“We must set down, first of all, as an immutable axiom – that this task can be solved only by a revolutionary party. The fundamental historic task is to create the revolutionary party in the USSR from among the healthy elements of the old party and from among the youth ... No normal ‘constitutional’ ways remain to remove the ruling clique. The bureaucracy can be compelled to yield power into the hands of the proletarian vanguard only by force.” (The Soviet Union and the Fourth International.)
However, this “force,” required to bring about “the reorganization of the Soviet state,” as he saw the situation at that time (1933), would not take the form of revolution. He wrote:
“When the proletariat springs into action, the Stalinist apparatus will remain suspended in mid-air. Should it still attempt to resist, it will then be necessary to apply against it not the measures of civil war, but rather measures of police character.” (The Soviet, Union and the Fourth International /#8211; Emphasis added.)
But by 1935, Trotsky came to the conclusion that it was already too late for mere “police measures,” and that a political revolution, leaving intact the social foundations of the Soviet Union, was necessary. That conclusion remained unchanged.
For the benefit of those who still nurtured illusions of reforming the bureaucracy – Trotsky never promised that the Stalinist monster would reform itself – he wrote in 1936:
“There is no peaceful outcome for this crisis. No devil ever yet voluntarily cut off his own claws. The Soviet bureaucracy will not give up its positions without a fight. The development leads obviously to the road of revolution.” (The Revolution Betrayed)
“With energetic pressure from the popular mass, and the disintegration inevitable in such circumstances of the government apparatus, the resistance of those in power may prove much weaker than now appears. But as to this only hypotheses are possible. In any case, the bureaucracy can be removed only by a revolutionary force. And, as always, there will be fewer victims the more bold and decisive is the attack. To prepare this and stand at the head of the masses in a favorable historic situation – that is the task of the Soviet section of the Fourth International.” (The Revolution Betrayed – Emphasis added.)
Finally, Trotsky’s settled conclusion, excluding any thought of “reforming” the Stalinist bureaucracy – not even to mention the monstrous suggestion of its possible self-reform – became the basic program of the revolutionary struggle for the restoration of Soviet democracy. This program of political revolution was formalized in the Transitional Program of the Founding Congress of the Fourth International, written by Trotsky (1938), as follows:
“Only the victorious revolutionary uprising of the oppressed masses can revive the Soviet regime and guarantee its further development toward socialism. There is but one party capable of leading the Soviet masses to insurrection – the party of the Fourth International!” (The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of ’the Fourth International – Emphasis added.)
That has been the program of the Fourth International, and the theoretical source of its policies and tactics in relation to Stalinism, since its formal establishment as a world organization in 1938. Up until recently, no-one who held a different opinion has ventured to call himself a Trotskyism.
But now Deutscher, in his latest book, Russia – What Next?, has shown those who want to be shown, how Trotsky too – like Marx and Lenin before him – can be turned into a “harmless icon.” First bowing before Trotsky’s “prophetic vision of the future,” Deutscher then introduces a slight revision of Trotsky’s theory of the road to this future, strikingly similar to Bernstein’s revision of Marx, nearly 60 years ago, after the death of Engels.
Marx and Engels, as everybody knows, had predicted the transformation of society from capitalism to socialism by means of a workers’ revolution. Bernstein said:
“The first part is correct; capitalism will be replaced by socialism. But this transformation will be brought about gradually and peacefully, by a process of step-by-step reform. Capitalism will grow into socialism. A workers’ revolution is not necessary.”
This was the theory which disarmed the Second International. It led straight to the betrayal of the Social Democracy in the First World War, and to the transformation of the party founded by Marx and Engels into a counter-revolutionary force. Deutscher performs the same kind of operation on Trotsky’s teachings, “emasculating and vulgarizing” their “real essence” and “blunting their revolutionary edge.” Soviet democracy, he says, will be restored as Trotsky predicted – but not by a revolutionary uprising of the Soviet proletariat, and no party of the Fourth International is needed. The Stalinist party is good enough, and the heirs of Stalin will lead the way to the abolition of Stalinism.
Deutscher proclaims, as the most likely prospect of Soviet development under Malenkov: “A gradual evolution of the regime toward a socialist democracy.” (Page 208.) He continues: “An analysis of these conditions leads to the general conclusion that the balance of domestic factors favors a democratic regeneration of the regime.” (Page 208.)
That sounds attractive to those who hope for victory without struggle, as the Bernstein theory of the self-elimination of capitalism sounded before 1914, and especially before fascism. But that’s the most that can be said for it.
What is especially monstrous and dishonest about this complacent prediction is that Deutscher, in support of this prediction, trickily refers to a formulation of Trotsky, made in 1931 (quoted above) and leaves unmentioned Trotsky’s later conclusion that the entrenched bureaucracy could be overthrown and soviet democracy restored only by means of a mass uprising of the Soviet proletariat led by a new party of the Fourth International.
“In the 1930’s Trotsky advocated a ‘limited political revolution’ against Stalinism. He saw it not as a full-fledged social upheaval but as an ‘administrative operation’ directed against the chiefs of the political police and a small clique terrorizing the nation.” (Page 214.)
Deutscher goes even further. Throwing caution to the winds, he credits “Malenkov’s government” with actually carrying out this program of self-reform. He says:
“As so often, Trotsky was tragically ahead of his time and prophetic in his vision of the future, although he could not imagine that Stalin’s closest associates would act in accordance with his scheme. What Malenkov’s government is carrying out now is precisely the ‘limited revolution’ envisaged by Trotsky.” (Russia – What Next?, Page 215)
Indeed, Trotsky “could not imagine that“; and anyone who does imagine it – to say nothing of asserting that it is already taking place – has no right to refer to the authority of Trotsky. Besides that, Malenkov’s “limited revolution” has so far remained a product of Deutscher’s imagination. The ink was hardly dry on his new book when the new blood purge started in the Soviet Union and Malenkov’s army answered the revolting East German workers with tanks and machine guns and wholesale arrests of strikers.
Deutscher’s new book was adequately reviewed by comrade Breitman in the Militant of June 22 and 29, 1953, and his conclusions were ruthlessly criticized from the standpoint of orthodox Trotskyism. If we return to the subject now, it is because Deutscher’s fantastic revelations have not remained a mere matter of controversy between Trotskyists and a writer outside the ranks of the revolutionary workers. One book review would be enough for that. But since that time we have had to recognize accumulated evidence of echoes of the Deutscher theory inside our party and the Fourth International. Deutscherism is being offered to us as a substitute for Trotsky’s theory; and, in order to facilitate the switch, is being dressed up as nothing more than a modernized version of this same theory.
Here I would like to make a brief parenthetical digression on a secondary point.
As our readers know, a factional struggle in the Fourth International has broken into the open; and, as in all serious factional fights, some questions of organizational procedure are involved. Some international comrades have expressed the opinion that the struggle is merely, or at least primarily, an organizational struggle and wish to shift the axis of the discussion to this question.
As already indicated in previous contributions to the Militant, the SWP considers this aspect of the struggle also important. I intend to return to this question and to discuss it at length, as I did in 1940 in the great factional battle which we, together with Trotsky, waged against the revisionist program of Burnham. Nevertheless, I think now, as I thought then, that the organizational question, with all its importance, is a derivative and not the primary question.
Such, questions really make sense only when they are considered in this light. In every struggle, revolutionists and opportunists find themselves at logger-heads on the issue of “organization methods.” But regardless of how this issue may arise in the first place, whatever incidents may provoke it, the dispute over “organization” always leads, in the final analysis, to the more decisive question: What are the conflicting organization methods for and what political purpose do they serve? The disciples of Trotsky throughout the world, if they really want to be faithful to his political method, should put this question to themselves and seek the answer in the only place it can be found – in the domain of the conflicting theories and politics of the contending factions.
It is well known, or ought to be, that revisionists always try to duck and run and hide from a frank and open discussion of these primary issues, and to muddle up the discussion with all kinds of secondary organization questions, fairy tales and chit-chat; while the orthodox always insist, despite all provocations, on putting first things first. The documentary record of the 1939-40 struggle in the SWP gives a classic illustration of these opposing tactics. (See the two books: In Defense of Marxism and The Struggle for a Proletarian Party.)
We think that Trotsky and we were right in the way we conducted that great struggle and have taken it as the model for our conduct of the present one. That is why, in our Letter to All Trotskyists, adopted by our 25th Anniversary Plenum (The Militant, Nov. 16, 1953), we put the theoretical and political questions first and the organization questions second. The same considerations have prompted the present contribution to the discussion, in advance of a fuller treatment of the derivative questions of international organization and conceptions of internationalism.
At the May Plenum of the SWP the two factions in the party, who up to then had been fighting primarily over national questions, concluded a truce based on the recognition of the right of the majority to lead the party according to its policy in national affairs. It was also agreed to continue the discussion without factional struggle. This truce was blown up within a very few weeks after the Plenum by the outbreak of a new controversy over fundamental questions of theory which had not been directly posed by the minority before .the Plenum. Simultaneously, the factional struggle in the SWP was extended to the international field.
The first signal for the new eruption of factional warfare was the announcement by the minority of the new slogan under which they intended to resume the factional struggle: “Junk the old Trotskyism!” This slogan was announced by Clarke as reporter for the minority, at the membership meeting of the New York Local on June 11, 1953. The party membership as well as the leadership, long educated in the school of orthodox Trotskyism, reacted sharply to this impudent slogan and awaited alertly to see what would be offered as a substitute for their old doctrine.
They didn’t have long to wait. In the issue of Fourth International which came off the press a week or so later, Clarke, as editor, contributed an article on the new events in the Soviet Union. This article, smuggled into the magazine without the knowledge or authorization of the editorial board, envisaged the possibility of the self-reform of the Soviet bureaucracy in the following language:
“Will the process take the form of a violent upheaval against bureaucratic rule in the USSR? Or will concessions to the masses and sharing of power – as was the long course in the English bourgeois revolution in the political relationship between the rising bourgeoisie and the declining nobility – gradually undermine the base of the bureaucracy? Or will the evolution be a combination of both forms? That we cannot now foresee.” (Fourth International, No.120.)
This brazen attempt to pass off this Deutscherite concept in our Trotskyist magazine – carrying the revisionist attack to the public – enormously sharpened the factional struggle, and made it clear, at the same time, that this struggle could no longer be confined to national issues. The party majority, educated in the school of Trotskyist orthodoxy, rose up against this reformist formulation of Soviet perspectives. Their protest was expressed by comrade Stein.
In a letter to the editors, published in the next issue of the magazine, he pointed out that Clarke “discards the Trotskyist position on the inevitability of political revolution by the working class against the Soviet ruling caste without any substantial motivation.” He added: “If comrade Clarke believes that the accepted programmatic positions of Trotskyism on these fundamental issues are no longer valid and require revision, he should not have introduced such serious changes in so offhand a manner.” (Fourth International, No.121.)
Some comrades in our international movement, who protest their own “orthodoxy” while acting as attorneys for the revisionists, have attempted to minimize the importance of Clarke’s Deutscherite formulation on prospective Soviet developments, which followed so closely on the heels of the slogan, “Junk the old Trotskyism!” They try to pass it off as “a misunderstanding,” a “bad sentence which can easily be set straight,” etc. Subsequent developments provide no support for this optimistic reassurance.
Comrade Stein’s intervention offered Clarke and his factional associates in the SWP as well as in the Fourth International a wide-open opportunity to clear up any possible misunderstandings on this fundamental question. He invited him, in effect, either to “motivate” his revision of “accepted, programmatic positions of Trotskyism on these fundamental issues,” or to withdraw it.
Clarke did neither. In the same issue of the magazine, he blandly stated that the theory of the self-reform of the Soviet bureaucracy, which he had envisaged as a definite possibility, is genuine Trotskyism. In answer to Stein’s criticism, he said:
“I am discarding nothing. I am trying to apply our program. What is happening is that the concept of the political revolution held by world Trotskyism for almost two decades is now for the first time due to find application in life.”
Just how “the concept of the political revolution” can “find application in life” by “concessions to the masses and sharing of power” – a concept of reform – was left without the explanation which Stein had demanded. Instead, his pertinent criticisms were derided as “deriving apparently from the conception that the programmatic positions of Trotskyism constitute dogma rather than a guide to action.”
Naturally, no one is required to accept the theoretical formulations of Trotsky as dogma. All of these formulations in general, and the theory of Soviet perspectives in particular, are meant as a guide to action. Precisely because of that, because the revision of theory has profound implications for the political action of our movement, if one wants to challenge this theory – which anyone has a perfect right to do – he should do it openly, and state frankly what is wrong in the old theory, and consequently what is wrong with the line of action it was designed to “guide.”
He should offer “substantial motivation” for the new and different theory of Stalinist self-reform, and not – in the movement based on Trotsky’s theory – simply introduce it “in so off-hand a manner,” as a matter of course, so to speak. That is all that Stein demanded. But Clarke did not answer in these terms. His gratuitous reference to “dogma” – a device we have encountered before in conflicts with hide-and-seek revisionists – simply evaded any explanation or motivation of his astonishing statement without withdrawing it.
However, comrades throughout the country and co-thinkers in other countries, who read this exchange in Fourth International magazine, took a more serious view of the matter. They recognized that fundamental questions of theory were breaking to the surface in the internal fight in the SWP, and the orthodox and the revisionist tendencies began to take sides accordingly.
The Pablo faction in the British ... [text missing from original – MIA] likely prospect of Soviet development which had previously worked in secret, made its first demonstrative appearance in the open with a demand that Clarke’s article be published in England in place of another article on Soviet development which had been written from an orthodox point of view. This was opposed by Burns and the other orthodox Trotskyists on the ground that Clarke’s article was contrary to the program of the Fourth International. The open factional struggle in the British section began to take shape from that moment.
Comrade Burns wrote to us under date of August 10 as follows:
“The editorials by Clarke open up a decisive stage of the political struggle. These are not questions of accidental formulations. This is the real policy of the Minority and its supporters.”
Prior to that, before Stein’s criticism had appeared in the magazine, I wrote to New York from Los Angeles under date of July 9:
“Are we going to sponsor the possible variant, as Clarke seems to intimate in the end of his article in the latest magazine, that the Stalinist bureaucracy will right itself without a political revolution? Under this head 1 would like to know the name and address of any previous privileged social groupings in history which have voluntarily overthrown their own privileges.”
“We can do no greater honor to his memory than to continue his work In Defense of Marxism and complete it under the heading In Defense of Trotskyism.”
Comrade Tom, an “old Trotskyist” of the orthodox school, who saw the new revisionist current in the International and raised the alarm against it sooner and clearer than we did, wrote to us from abroad under date of August 23:
“We can do no greater honor to his (Trotsky’s) memory, thirteen years after his assassination, than to continue his work In Defense of Marxism, and to complete it under the heading ’In Defense of Trotskyism’ against the new revisionists who are attempting to defile it and – by that same token – to blur the guilt and the reactionary role in history of his assassins.”
Recognizing the Deutscherite origin of Clarke’s formula, Tom continued:
“Has everyone read Deutscher’s new book? It should be required reading for the present struggle. This man, as is well known, has passed through our international movement on his way to the fleshpots of Fleet Street. He is not someone moving towards us but someone who has moved away from us. And direction, as Trotsky taught us, is a very important element in judging the specific position taken by the political animal at any given time. He is acclaimed not only by Clarke and his friends, but by the British bourgeois press as well (which, for reasons of its own, as I believe Jim once said of Churchill, engages in quite a bit of wishful thinking these days of insoluble predicaments).
“Pablo, Burns tells me, remarked to him recently that Deutscher has done more than anyone to popularize ‘our’ ideas before a broad audience. Deutscher is certainly no mean popularizer, but not of our ideas, that is, the Trotskyist ideas – although most everything of substance and truth in his presentation is borrowed from this source. His new book, which purports to analyze Stalinism and to present forecasts from a vaguely ‘Marxist’ point of view, has a few flaws in it in this respect: It leaves out of account entirely a sociological, historical evaluation of the Soviet bureaucracy; it describes Stalinism as a continuation of Leninism (it is its fusion with the barbaric Russian heritage, according to his description); it passes off the physical destruction of Lenin’s party as something of moral rather than political significance; it justifies Stalinism as historically necessary and in its end result progressive. And – on that basis – projects the theory of the Malenkov ‘self-reform’ movement. That is, on the basis of a distortion of the Trotskyist analysis, it presents a complete negation of the Trotskyist line of struggle against Stalinism.
“Our new revisionists have so far only half-borrowed from his conclusions and tried to smuggle them in piecemeal as our line. It should not be forgotten, however, that Pablo’s views on the reality of the transition epoch – in which of necessity deformed revolutions and workers states become the norm deviating from the ideal of the Marxist classics – touch some points in the Deutscher analysis as well. Nothing has been heard of these views lately, and for good reason: they need some adjustment to the newer reality, so to speak. But has the concept, the trend of thought, behind them been dropped? All evidence is to the contrary.”
Comrade Peng, the veteran leader and international representative of the Chinese section of the Fourth International, wrote to us as follows, under date of October 6:
“Though we know little about the Majority and the Minority in America, after reading the two different ideas recently in the Fourth International, it becomes clear to us. (The letters of S. and C. and the statement of the Editor are published at the end of the Fourth International which we read yesterday.) The Minority have begun to dissociate themselves from the Trotskyist tradition which is being defended by the Majority. It is not an accident that the International (the Pabloite International Secretariat) stands by the Minority. In fact, the idea of the Minority has evolved from some of the prejudices in the International, but more clearly and more distinctly.”
Peng certainly hit the nail on the head when he said that the Pabloite International Secretariat “stands by the Minority,” although up till that time they had been pretending “neutrality.” The opening of a public-debate over the perspectives of development in the Soviet Union, precipitated by Clarke’s article, put an end to this pose. Pablo commented on this issue of the magazine, not to condemn Clarke’s revisionist formulations, but the objection to them. In a letter to us dated September 3, he wrote:
“... the latest issue of the FI, as well as a series of articles recently published in the Militant, sketch out a course whose meaning it is not difficult to discern. It seems to us that you are now in the process of developing a line different from ours on two fundamental planes: the conception and the functioning of the International; and the manner of understanding and explaining the events which are unfolding in the Soviet-Union and the buffer countries since Stalin’s death.”
He was dead right about that. We certainly were “developing a line different” from that of the Pablo faction, not only, as he says, about “the manner of understanding and explaining” events in the Soviet Union and the satellite lands, but also about events in France – different theoretical analyses of the role of Stalinism. And, even more to the point, about what to say and do about these events – different lines of political action “guided” by different theories.
The factional line-up in the Fourth International began to develop rapidly from the first publication of this theoretical controversy in Fourth International magazine; and different actions of the contending factions followed from different. theories with lightning-like speed. The sudden and violent eruption of the open struggle has taken some international comrades by surprise, but we are not to blame for that. Events put the conflicting theories to the test without any lapse of time, and both sides had to show their real positions in the test of action.
We have indicted the revisionists concretely for their shameful actions in connection with these events, in the Letter to All Trotskyists from the 25th Anniversary Plenum of the SWP. The movement is still waiting for their answer to this indictment.
If I have dwelt at some length on this chronological sequence of developments since the publication of Clarke’s article, it was not to overplay the role of Clarke in precipitating the public discussion. His importance in the controversy derives from his claim to be the true spokesman and representative of Pablo’s real position – a claim which has been proved in life to be 100 percent correct. If his own contributions to the discussion have appeared to acquire an exaggerated importance in this presentation, it is simply because he spoke more frankly and bluntly; or, as Peng wrote, “more clearly and-distinctly,” than his sponsor and revealed his real position too soon.
Pablo prefers double-talk, dissimulation and duplicity. He knows that the cadres educated in the school of Trotsky could never be led to the direct rejection of their doctrine. His method is to maneuver the Fourth International into a revisionist position, not by frank and open avowal of such a program, but by the step-by-step imposition of a policy which, in practice, would undermine its historical function as an independent political movement, convert it into a left cover of Stalinism, and prepare its liquidation.
If Pablo were to criticize Clarke, within the circles of their common faction, it would not be for the content of his article, but for his imprudence in spoiling the strategy by premature disclosure of its real meaning. Auer once explained this strategy of the revisionists-in-practice in the German Social Democracy. In a famous letter to Bernstein he said: “My dear Ede, you don’t pass such resolutions. You don’t talk about it, you just do it.” (Quoted in The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein’s Challenge to Marx, by Peter Gay. Page 267.)
As for the specious arguments of Pablo’s attorneys that there has been a “misunderstanding“; that Clarke’s “bad sentence” will be repudiated; and all the rest of the rigmarole designed to muddle up the discussion of fundamental questions – the answer has already been provided by actions which speak louder than words.
The minority of the SWP, for whom Clarke spoke, have received, in the meantime, the public endorsement of the Pablo faction. That, in itself, tells everything a political person needs to know about their political affinity. Trotsky often said that the surest indication of a group’s real position is its international associations and alliances. “Tell me whom your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” There is no “misunderstanding” about this alliance. This is proved, if more proof is needed, by the fact that nowhere has the Pablo faction found time or space to repudiate the minority’s Deutscherite formulations of the self-reform of the Soviet bureaucracy, nor their slogan, “Junk the old Trotskyism!”
At the same time, to prove that there was no “misunderstanding” on their part, the minority organized a boycott of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the SWP, as a public demonstration against the Trotskyist orthodoxy which our 25-year struggle represents. This boycott precipitated their split from the SWP, which called forth public statements of their position in organs other than the press of the SWP. But neither in the first letter of Cochran to the Shachtmanite paper, nor in independent publications of their own, have they made the slightest retraction, correction or amendment of their original formulations about the prospective self-reform of the Soviet bureaucracy and all that is implied by it in terms of practical policy.
That is their real position and the real position of their sponsors and factional allies in the international struggle. Their attempt to revise the Trotskyist analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and to throw out the program derived from this analysis, is what the factional struggle in the international Trotskyist movement is really about – if we want to trace all the innumerable differences on derivative questions of tactics and organization to their basic theoretical source.
Los Angeles, Jan. 27, 1954
Last updated on: 31 March 2009