Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.4, Fall 1960, pp.99-105.
This article is based on two lectures given at the West Coast Vacation School in September 1956.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.
For over two decades the eminent Marxist closely followed all developments in this country and made important contributions to its socialist movement
ORIGINAL thinkers are as rare in the social sciences as in every other. In the hundred years of the modern movement of workers’ emancipation we know only four genuinely creative minds. These are the masters of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, and their great disciples, Lenin and Trotsky.
All four were Europeans – two Germans and two Russians. Fortunately for us, two of these men of genius devoted special attention to the problems of the workers movement in the America of their time. Engels was the first, Trotsky was the second.
Most of Engels’ contributions on the problems of American labor, consisting of letters written to American socialists, have recently been translated into English and are available in a single volume. Trotsky had much more to say about America. Some of his richest thought was devoted primarily to the problems of American socialism. His articles, speeches and letters on the subject of America would fill many volumes; only a small part has as yet been collected and published in book form.
More than any other international leader of the working class, Trotsky personally participated in the process of preparing the party of the coming socialist revolution in this country. His intervention began in the midst of the first world war even before the Russian Revolution. Deported from France, then Spain, for his anti-war opinions, he took a ship from Barcelona for the United States, arriving in the New World on January 13, 1917.
“I plunged into the affairs of American socialism too quickly and ... was straight-way up to my neck in work for it,” he wrote in My Life. The day after his arrival he attended a meeting of twenty left wing socialists at the home of the editor Ludwig Lore in Brooklyn. A complete account of this important meeting is given in Chapter V of The Roots of American Communism, by Theodore Draper.
It was called to discuss a program of action for organizing the radical forces in the American socialist movement. At this meeting, also attended by Bukharin, Trotsky formulated an anti-war platform for a new left wing in the Socialist Party. Two of its principal initiators, Lore and Katayama, says Draper, “agree that Trotsky talked himself into the momentary command of the American left wing.”
Trotsky’s only profession in New York was that of a revolutionary socialist. He worked on the Editorial Board of Novy Mir (New World), spoke at meetings and helped found the first theoretical review, The Class Struggle, which gathered together and educated the original members of the future Communist party.
ALTHOUGH he stayed in New York only two months, the United States made an even deeper impression upon Trotsky than he did upon the radical socialist movement.
“In one of the New York libraries I studied the economic history of the United States assiduously. The figures showing the growth of American exports during the war astounded me; they were, in fact, a complete revelation. And it was those same figures that not only predetermined America’s intervention in the war, but the decisive part that the United States would play in the world after the war, as well. I wrote several articles about this at the time, and gave several lectures. Since that time the problem of ‘America versus Europe’ has been one of my chief interests. And even now I am studying the question with the utmost care, hoping to devote a separate book to it. If one is to understand the future destiny of humanity this is the most important of all subjects.”
On March 27, 1917 he departed for the country of the revolution “in a deluge of flowers and speeches.” Later he wrote
“The Russian Revolution came so soon that I only managed to catch the general life-rhythm of the monster known as New York. I was leaving for Europe, with the feeling of a man who has had only a peep into the foundry in which the fate of man is to be forged. My only consolation was the thought that I might return.”
Although Trotsky was not able to return, he never thereafter lost interest in the development of American communism.
Trotsky’s next direct intervention in the affairs of American communism occurred in November, 1922 at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in Moscow. As Chairman of the Workers party, I was one of the delegates to that Congress. A commission had been set up to consider the status of the American Communist party which had been thrust into illegality by the post-war repressions and the Palmer Raids. The leadership was divided between those who thought it obligatory to remain underground and those, like myself, who were pushing for its open and legal existence. We were condemned as “liquidators” by our opponents.
This dispute was deadlocked until our delegation had an interview with Trotsky. After he heard our arguments, he stated that he would support our viewpoint and was sure that Lenin and the other Russian leaders would do the same. It so happened. Thus, upon Trotsky’s initiative, the authority of the Communist International was cast on the side of liberating the American Communist party from the strait jacket of illegality in which it had bound itself. This was the second great service Trotsky rendered the pioneer communist movement in this country.
During the early twenties Trotsky expanded the ideas on the ascendancy of US imperialism in world affairs which he had projected during the war. In two speeches, subsequently published in a pamphlet entitled Europe and America, he analyzed the impact the staggering material preponderance of the United States was having upon the postwar world.
“What does American capitalism want?” he asked. “American capitalism is seeking the position of world domination; it wants to establish an American imperialist autocracy over our planet ...” and, in pursuit of this objective, “it wants to put capitalist Europe on rations.” Europe could protect itself from submission to the dictates of US imperialism, he concluded, only if the working class conquered power and established a socialist United States of Europe.
In this “revolutionary Marxist critique of Americanism,” Trotsky said,
“... we do not at all mean thereby to condemn Americanism, lock, stock and barrel. We do not mean that we abjure to learn from Americans and Americanism whatever one can and should learn from them. We lack the technique of the Americans and their labor proficiency ... To have Bolshevism shod in the American way – there is our task! ... If we get shod with mathematics, technology, if we Americanize our still frail socialist industry, then we can with tenfold confidence say that the future is completely and decisively working in our favor. Americanized Bolshevism will crush and conquer imperialist Americanism.”
AFTER Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata in 1928, he occupied himself with writing a criticism of the Draft Program drawn up by Bukharin and Stalin for the Sixth Congress of the Communist International. In this classic of Marxist-Leninist literature Trotsky examined all the key problems of the international revolution, submitting the new revisionism introduced by the Stalinists to a devastating criticism. By good fortune I happened to be one of a selected group of delegates to the Sixth Congress who had access to this document. Up to this point I, like others, had been vaguely disturbed by many events within the Communist International and the Soviet Union but had neither adequate explanations nor solutions for them. I shall never forget the illumination Trotsky provided through his profound analysis of the problems of the world revolution in the imperialist epoch and the evolution of the Soviet state under Stalinist opportunism. He exposed the theoretical root of Stalinist revisionism in its advocacy of “Socialism in One Country” which broke with the Leninist program of international socialist revolution.
I have told elsewhere how the Canadian CP leader Maurice Spector and I smuggled a copy of the manuscript out of the Soviet Union, circulated it among our closest co-thinkers in the leaderships of the American and Canadian Communist parties, and how our championing of its ideas led to our expulsion in October, 1928.
This document provided a solid foundation for the establishment of the Communist Left Opposition in this country and a principled guide to our propaganda work. It also inspired our tendency with that internationalist outlook which it has retained ever since. At that time Jay Lovestone, then head of the American Communist party, was announcing that the prosperity of American capitalism was firmly based and that it had enough stability to escape the fatal consequences of the laws of the capitalist system for a long time to come. The crisis of 1929 exploded this illusion. Thanks to Trotsky’s teachings our movement had already been inoculated against this dangerous bacillus of “American exceptionalism” which even today debilitates and has destroyed many American radicals.
After Trotsky’s deportation to Turkey early in 1929, we got into direct communication with him at Prinkipo – and from that time until his assassination in 1940 he remained in constant correspondence and contact with us. Every important step of our movement was taken in consultation with him.
Although we made our own decisions, we always sought and valued his advice. For his part, he never gave directions or orders – and indeed we would not have accepted them. But we turned to him as a senior collaborator of immense experience and unique authority.
IN HIS letters and discussions he underscored the fact that the United States was, at its own pace and in its own way, also headed toward deepening class struggles and crises of revolutionary intensity. This was the theme of his first letter to the American Bolshevik-Leninists from Constantinople in March, 1929.
“The work to be achieved by the American Opposition has international-historic significance, for in the last historic analysis all the problems of our planet will be decided upon American soil. There is much in favor of the idea that from the standpoint of revolutionary order, Europe and the East stand ahead of the United States. But a course of events is possible in which this order might be broken in favor of the proletariat of the United States. Moreover, even if you assume that America which now shakes the whole world will be shaken last of all, the danger remains that a revolutionary situation in the United States may catch the vanguard of the American proletariat unprepared, as was the case in Germany in 1923, in England in 1926 and in China in 1925-1927.
“We must not for a minute lose sight of the fact that the might of American capitalism rests more and more upon a foundation of world economy with its contradictions and crises, military and revolutionary. This means that a social crisis in the United States may arrive a good deal sooner than many think, and have a feverish development from the beginning. Hence the conclusion: it is necessary to prepare.”
This first letter to us was written at the height of the boom of the nineteen twenties when it appeared to almost everyone that the American economy was heading upward forever. That bubble burst with the stock market crash seven months later.
Taken off guard by the onset of the depression, the American workers were unable to react vigorously to its effects for several years. Yet in the depths of the depression Trotsky foretold the labor upsurge of the 1930’s and the rise of the CIO. Here is what he said in Germany: The Key to the International Situation, in 1931:
“Today it is still hard to ascertain, at least from a distance, any measure of important radicalization in the American working masses. It may be assumed that the masses themselves have been so startled by the catastrophic upheaval in the conjuncture, so stunned and crushed by unemployment or by the fear of unemployment, that they have not as yet been able to draw even the most elementary political conclusions from the calamity that has befallen them. This requires a certain amount of time. But the conclusions will be drawn.
“The tremendous economic crisis, which has taken on the character of a social crisis, will inevitably be converted into a crisis of the political consciousness of the American working class. It is quite possible that the revolutionary radicalization of the broadest layers of workers will reveal itself, not in the period of the greatest decline in the conjuncture, but on the contrary, during the turn toward revival and upswing.
“In either case, the present crisis will open up a new epoch in the life of the American proletariat and of the people as a whole. Serious regroupments and clashes among the ruling parties are to be expected, as well as new attempts to create a third party, etc.
“With the first signs of a rise in the conjuncture, the trade union movement will acutely sense the necessity of tearing itself loose from the claws of the despicable AFL bureaucracy. At the same time, unlimited possibilities will unfold themselves for Communism.
“In the past, America has known more than one stormy outburst of revolutionary or semi-revolutionary mass movements. Every time they died out quickly, because America at every time entered a new phase of economic upswing and also because the movements themselves were characterized by crass empiricism and theoretical helplessness. These two conditions belong to the past. A new economic upswing (and one cannot consider it excluded in advance) will have to be based, not on the internal ‘equilibrium,’ but on the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism will enter an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of an uninterrupted growth of armaments, of intervention in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflicts and convulsions.
“On the other hand, in the form of Communism the masses of the American proletariat possess – rather, could possess, provided with a correct policy – no longer the old melange of empiricism, mysticism and quackery, but a scientifically grounded, up-to-date doctrine. These radical changes permit us to predict with certainty that the inevitable and relatively rapid, revolutionary transformation of the American proletariat will no more be the former, easily extinguishable ‘bonfire,’ but the beginning of a veritable revolutionary conflagration. In America, Communism can face its great future with confidence.”
IN 1932 he repeated his optimistic forecast of revolutionary changes in the United States. In a letter to the Militant, November 26, 1932, Trotsky wrote,
“The political life of the United States is clearly approaching a turning point. Within the near future it will become clear that when Heraclitus the Dark said ‘everything flows, everything changes,’ he had in mind also the republic of Hoover-Roosevelt. Old traditions, conceptions, prejudices, will go by the board. Through a period of ideological chaos and stress, the classes in American society will create for themselves a new modern ideology. A strong revolutionary kernel, welded by a uniformity of doctrine and political method, will be called upon in such a period to play a great role. The creation of such a kernel is the achievement of the Militant. So much the heartier is my greeting.”
In the five years between 1932 and 1937 the American Trotskyists broke out of their isolation, merged with the American Workers party of Muste and later entered the Socialist party of Norman Thomas, increasing their forces and influence with each political step. We benefited from advice received from Trotsky through letters and visits to him in Turkey, France and Norway.
Our contact became still closer after Trotsky arrived in Mexico in January, 1937. We supplied his household with secretaries and guards from our ranks, kept up continuous correspondence on many important political matters, and sent delegations to confer with him.
Together we engaged in the international campaign to expose the frame-ups of Stalin’s Moscow Trials in which Trotsky and his son Sedov were the principal defendants. Prominent liberal and left wing intellectuals had formed a committee in New York to obtain asylum for Trotsky and afford him an opportunity to answer his accusers. Through the agency of this committee an International Commission of Inquiry, headed by the philosopher John Dewey was set up. This commission went to Mexico City to interrogate Trotsky and hear his case.
The testimony before this commission was published in a book called The Case of Leon Trotsky in which he not only refuted the false allegations against him but set forth his views on many important political questions.
The Dewey Commission published its findings in a book called Not Guilty in which it cleared both Trotsky and his son of the charges against them in the Moscow Trials. They anticipated by twenty years the revelations by Stalin’s accomplice and successor Khrushchev that these trials were nothing but frame-ups.
TROTSKY’S most extended treatment of the economy and politics of US monopoly capitalism was given in his introduction to the Living Thoughts of Karl Marx, written in 1939. The full potential of American technique could not be realized, he stated, unless and until it was liberated from private ownership. This could only be accomplished through the socialist revolution.
He wrote: “The program of ‘Technocracy,’ which flourished in the period of the great crisis of 1929-1932, was founded on the correct premise that economy can be rationalized only through the union of technique at the height of science and government at the service of society. Such a union is possible, provided technique and government are liberated from the slavery of private ownership. That is where the great revolutionary task begins. In order to liberate technique from the cabal of private interests and place the government at the service of society, it is necessary to ‘expropriate the expropriators.’ Only a powerful class, interested in its own liberation and opposed to the monopolistic expropriators, is capable of consummating this task. Only in unison with a proletarian government can the qualified stratum of technicians build a truly scientific and a truly national, i.e., a socialist economy.”
Khrushchev, making Stalin’s line more explicit, has stated that new conditions in the world have made it possible for monopoly capitalism to be peacefully transformed into socialism. As though answering in advance this latest revelation of Khrushchev, Trotsky dealt with this problem along the following lines:
“It would be best, of course, to achieve this purpose in a peaceful, gradual, democratic way. But the social order that has outlived itself never yields its place to its successor without resistance. If in its day the young forceful democracy proved incapable of forestalling the seizure of wealth and power by the plutocracy, is it possible to expect that a senile and devastated democracy will prove capable of transforming a social order based on the untrammelled rule of sixty families? Theory and history teach that a succession of social regimes presupposes the highest form of the class struggle, i.e., revolution. Even slavery could not be abolished in the United States without a civil war. ‘Force is the mid-wife of every old society pregnant with a new one.’ No one has yet been able to refute Marx on this basic tenet in the sociology of class society. Only a socialist revolution can clear the road to socialism.”
Trotsky was fully aware of the tremendous grip traditional pragmatic habits of thought and action had upon the American people, its intellectuals and its working class. But he was convinced that the further development of the working class movement would enable it to cast off bourgeois influences and make it more susceptible to the methods and conclusions of scientific socialism.
“The United States had Marxists in the past, it is true, but they were a strange type of Marxist, or rather, three strange types. In the first place, there were the emigres cast out of Europe, who did what they could but could not find any response; in the second place, isolated American groups, like the De Leonists, who in the course of events, and because of their own mistakes, turned themselves into sects; in the third place, dilettantes attracted by the October Revolution and sympathetic to Marxism as an exotic teaching that had little to do with the United States. Their day is over.
“Now dawns the new epoch of an independent class movement of the proletariat and at the same time of – genuine Marxism. In this, too, America will in a few jumps catch up with Europe and outdistance it. Progressive technique and a progressive social structure will pave their own way in the sphere of doctrine. The best theoreticians of Marxism will appear on American soil. Marx will become the mentor of the advanced American workers.”
AFTER our expulsion from the Socialist party we held discussions in April 1938 with Trotsky in Mexico City on the political problems and prospects of the American labor movement. Out of these discussions we concluded that the next great step in the progress of American unionism would be or have to be the formation of an independent Labor party. Trotsky believed that this step was dictated by the difficulties confronting the new industrial union movement on the one hand and the slow growth of the revolutionary forces on the other.
“The working class stands before, an alternative,” he observed. “Either the trade unions will be dissolved or they will join for political action. That is the objective situation, not created by us, and in this sense the agitation for a working class party now becomes not an abstract but a totally concrete step in progress for the workers organized in the trade unions in the first instance and for those not organized at all.
“In the second place, it is an absolutely concrete task determined by economic and social conditions. It would be absurd for us to say that because the new party issues from the political amalgamation of the trade unions it will of necessity be opportunistic. We will not invite the workers to make this same step in the same way as abroad.”
To make sure that the projected Labor party would play a progressive role, Trotsky proposed that the measures contained in the Transitional Program of the Fourth International, which he was then formulating, should be offered as its guide. Ever since that time, our party has been the only consistent advocate of a thorough break by the organized workers with the capitalist parties and the establishment of a Labor party along these lines.
Fascism was sweeping over Europe and raising its head in the United States through such figures as Father Coughlin and Mayor Hague of Jersey City. Trotsky urged that the labor movement take the lead in independent action against this menace and not rely upon the capitalist government to eliminate the reaction upon which it rested.
At the same time he pointed out that fascism was able to conquer only in those countries where the conservative labor parties prevented the proletariat from utilizing the revolutionary situation and seizing power, as in Germany.
“Both theoretical analysis as well as the rich historical experience of the last quarter of a century have demonstrated with equal force that fascism is each time the final link of a specific political cycle composed of the following: the gravest crisis of capitalist society; the growth of the radicalization of the working class; the growth of sympathy toward the working class and a yearning for change on the part of the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie; the extreme confusion of the big bourgeoisie; its cowardly and treacherous maneuvers aimed at avoiding the revolutionary climax; the exhaustion of the proletariat, growing confusion and indifference; the aggravation of the social crisis; the despair of the petty bourgeoisie, its yearning for change, the collective neurosis of the petty bourgeoisie, its readiness to believe in miracles; its readiness for violent measures; the growth of hostility towards the proletariat which has deceived its expectations. These are the premises for a swift formation of a fascist party and its victory.”
ON THESE grounds Trotsky predicted that the American workers would have their chance to take over power before the native fascists would have theirs. In any event, he declared:
“No occupation is more completely unworthy than that of speculating whether or not we shall succeed in creating a powerful revolutionary leader-party. Ahead lies a favorable perspective, providing all the justification for revolutionary activism. It is necessary to utilize the opportunities which are opening up and to build the revolutionary party.”
This injunction to “build the revolutionary party” is from the very last article he wrote before his assassination.
In another unfinished article on the Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, he stressed the necessity for revolutionary militants to adapt themselves to the concrete conditions existing in the trade unions of their country in order to mobilize the members not only against the capitalists but also against the bureaucratic regime within the unions themselves and against the leaders enforcing this regime. He put forward as the primary slogan for this struggle: Complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state. Along with this went the slogan of trade union democracy.
“The neutrality of trade unions is completely and irretrievably a thing of the past, gone together with the free bourgeois democracy,” he wrote. “The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or on the contrary, the trade union can become the instrument of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.”
Although he did not write at length on the question, Trotsky was extremely sensitive to the special role of the Negro struggle in the United States. In the Militant of July 2, 1932, he wrote of the need to get closer to the proletarians of the colored races:
“The difference in our relation to the petty bourgeois and to the proletarian groups does not require any explanation. But if the proletarian group works in a district where there are workers of various races, and in spite of this, it consists only of workers of a privileged nationality, I am inclined to regard them with suspicion: are we not dealing with the workers aristocracy? Isn’t the group poisoned by slave-holding prejudices active or passive?
“It is quite a different matter when we are approached by a group of Negro workers. Here I am ready to consider beforehand that we are achieving agreement with them, even though this is not yet obvious; because of their whole position they do not strive and cannot strive to degrade anybody, oppress anybody or deprive anybody of his rights. They do not seek privileges and cannot rise to the top except on the road of the international liberation.
“We can and we should find a way to the consciousness of the Negro workers, the Chinese workers, of the Hindu workers, all these oppressed colored races of the human ocean to whom belongs the decisive word in the development of humanity.”
WITH the approach of the second world war it became imperative to consider what tactics could assist the struggle against the warmongers in this country. Congressman Ludlow had introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that a declaration of war be first submitted to a referendum of the voters. Our National Committee was at first disposed to turn its back on this bill but asked Trotsky for his opinion. He replied that in his view it was necessary to give critical support to the Ludlow Amendment because it attempted to give the American people a say in the life and death issue of war or peace and thereby weakened the dictatorial war-making powers of the executives of imperialism. Since then the war-making powers have been even more tightly concentrated in a tiny group of top executives in Washington and the essential idea of the Ludlow Amendment remains fully valid.
Trotsky came into conflict with James Burnham, one of the leaders at that time of the Socialist Workers party, over the question of the Dies Committee. Trotsky planned to appear before this predecessor of the House Un-American Activities Committee in order to expose and denounce it before the public. Burnham opposed this move. Dies himself settled the question by refusing to take up Trotsky’s challenge.
Replying later to Burnham’s objections, Trotsky wrote:
“The average worker, not infected with the prejudices of the labor aristocracy, would joyfully welcome every bold revolutionary word thrown in the very face of the class enemy. And the more reactionary the institution which serves as the arena for the combat, all the more complete is the satisfaction of the worker. This has been proved by historical experience. Dies himself, becoming frightened and jumping back in time, demonstrated how false your position was. It is always better to compel the enemy to retreat than to hide oneself without a battle.”
This quotation is taken from the book In Defense of Marxism which was devoted to the issues brought forward in the struggle within the Socialist Workers party at the beginning of the second world war. Trotsky took the lead in the fight against the Burnham-Shachtman opposition which was seeking to overthrow the fundamental positions of the Fourth International and the method of Marxism on the question of the nature and defense of the Soviet Union. In these writings Trotsky ranged over the wide field of Marxist theory from the heights of the materialist dialectic to the building of the proletarian party. His principal preoccupation in this dispute, which culminated in a split, was to preserve the Marxist and proletarian character of our party. He was successful in both respects.
As Trotsky wrote in the founding document of the Fourth International, “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.” This meant that the principal task of the workers in every country was to create a party and a leadership capable of leading mankind out of the death agony of capitalism into the new world of socialism.
He most passionately and eloquently expressed his views on the decisive role of the party in the recorded speech he made in 1938 in celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of our party and the founding of the Fourth International:
“Dear Friends: We are not a party as other parties. Our ambition is not only to have more members, more papers, more money in the treasury, more deputies. All that is necessary, but only as a means. Our aim is the full material and spiritual liberation of the toilers and exploited through the socialist revolution. Nobody will prepare it and nobody will guide it but ourselves. The old Internationals – the Second, the Third, that of Amsterdam, we will add to them also the London Bureau – are rotten through and through.
“The great events which rush upon mankind will not leave of these outlived organizations one stone upon another. Only the Fourth International looks with confidence at the future. It is the world party of Socialist Revolution! There never was a greater task on the earth. Upon every one of us rests a tremendous historical responsibility.
“Our party demands each of us, totally and completely. Let the philistines hunt their own individuality in empty space. For a revolutionary to give himself entirely to the party signifies finding himself.
“Yes, our party takes each one of us wholly. But in return it gives to every one of us the highest happiness: the consciousness that one participates in the building of a better future, that one carries on his shoulders a particle of the fate of mankind, and that one’s life will not have been lived in vain.
“The fidelity to the cause of the toilers requires from us the highest devotion to our international party. The party, of course, can also be mistaken. By common effort we will correct its mistakes. In its ranks can penetrate unworthy elements. By common effort we will eliminate them. New thousands who will enter its ranks tomorrow will probably be deprived of necessary education. By common effort we will elevate their revolutionary level. But we will never forget that our party is now the greatest lever of history. Separated from this lever, everyone of us is nothing. With this lever in hand, we are all.”
* * *
SINCE the terrible admissions of Khrushchev and others at the 20th Congress, the thirty year arbitrary domination of American radicalism by the power of Moscow through the American Communist party has been recognized by many people as a devastating disease. That is certainly correct. But the cure that is being offered in some quarters – the proposal for a return to American isolationism, which appears to have a superficial attractiveness to unthinking people – is no better than the disease it proposes to cure.
A purely American Socialist party would be as useless for the American workers today as Hoover’s “Fortress America” would be for the American bourgeoisie. We are entangled in world affairs and cannot escape from them. The problem is to establish the correct relationship. Neither isolation from foreign influences nor arbitrary foreign domination can build a revolutionary party in this country. What is needed is an international outlook and international collaboration – that is what socialist internationalism really means.
Recoiling against the cult of Stalin, which caused such devastation in the American radical movement, some people now describe all reference to the Marxist authorities as the cult of Marx, the cult of Lenin, or the cult of Trotsky. Those who used to forbid themselves to say anything until it was first said by Stalin, or even to think any thoughts which had not first been thought for them by Stalin, have suddenly decided that the cure for this mental, moral and political prostration is to listen to nothing that is said and to read nothing that has been written outside the borders of the fifty states.
They say that henceforth we must walk on our own feet, think our own thoughts, and look neither to the right nor to the left, like a horse wearing blinkers. We for our part are firmly convinced that the repudiation of the cult of Stalin is a good thing. The repudiation of the cult of Khrushchev would be even better. But we are just as firmly convinced that isolationism, which could properly be called the cult of national idiocy, is not the right cure for the disease.
JUST as American science and technology borrow from the whole world, so in the realm of social theory and political thought the American workers must draw on the storehouse of international experience and theoretical generalization. Here the masters of Marxism will be their best teachers, with Trotsky foremost among them.
The thirty-year attitude of the American Stalinists toward Stalin, and our attitude toward Trotsky, is not the same thing. Trotsky gave us advice as a teacher and encouraged us to think independently and to take a critical attitude toward everything that was said by anybody, including what he said himself. In that way we could really assimilate the best thoughts of others and make them our own. We have tried to do that to the measure of our ability.
Stalin, however, issued orders which had to be carried out without thinking, under penalty of expulsion, slander, frame-up and murder. Trotsky, by his method, educated a cadre of independent thinking revolutionists. Stalin by his method, recruited a gang of bureaucratic lackeys who could not stand on their own feet. Our relations with Trotsky were those of disciples of a teacher of ideas, not of unthinking devotees of a cult or servile lackeys of an established power.
Just as Trotsky was a collaborator with the American revolutionists of the first world war and with the revolutionists of my generation, so will he be through his writings a collaborator of the new generation of builders of the party of the socialist revolution in this country.
Last updated on: 18.6.2006