Tony Cliff

Trotskyism after Trotsky

Chapter 1:
Recognising the problem



In The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels argue that communists generalise from the historical and international experience of the working class. This experience is always changing and developing and therefore Marxism always changes; the moment Marxism stops changing, it is dead. Sometimes historical change happens slowly and almost imperceptibly, but sometimes the changes are radical. Consequently there are abrupt turning points in the history of Marxism.

For example, one cannot understand the breakthrough marked by the appearance of The Communist Manifesto without taking into account the background of the coming 1848 revolution.

Another turning point was the Paris Commune in 1871 which inspired Marx to write in The Civil War in France, “The working class cannot take the old state machine to use it to build socialism.” [1] He argued that the working class must smash the capitalist state machine and build a new state without a police force, a standing army or a bureaucracy, a state in which all officials should be elected, instantly recallable and should get the same wages as the workers they represent. The Communist Manifesto had not mentioned any of this. Now Marx recognised the central features of a workers’ state. He did not reach these conclusions from studying hard in the British Museum. His understanding flowed from the actions of the Parisian workers who took power for 74 days and showed what kind of state the working class could establish.

Again, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution was a by-product of the Russian Revolution of 1905. This theory argued that in backward and underdeveloped countries the bourgeoisie, being a latecomer, was too cowardly and conservative to solve bourgeois democratic tasks, such as winning national independence and agrarian reform. These tasks could be accomplished by revolution led by the working class at the head of the peasantry. In the process of solving these issues a workers’ revolution would transcend the boundaries of bourgeois property norms and this would lead to the establishment of a workers’ state.

The idea that the bourgeoisie was counter-revolutionary and that the working class would lead the peasantry were not insights which arose automatically from Trotsky’s brilliant mind; they were discovered in reality in the 1905 revolution. This demonstrated in practice how the workers, not the bourgeoisie, struggled to overthrow Tsarism to exercise democratic control over society. Petrograd, at the centre of the revolution, even developed organs of a workers’ state – workers’ councils, or soviets. Further developments in Marxism by figures such as Lenin and Luxemburg also grew out of historical experience such as the latter’s brilliant book about the mass strike, a by-product of struggles in Russia and Poland during 1905.

A new turning point occurred when Stalin attempted to wipe out the tradition of the Bolshevik Revolution. It fell to Trotsky to champion its defence. Until his murder in 1940 he did this brilliantly. However, at the end of the Second World War the Fourth International that he founded faced a new and decisive challenge – how to react to a situation radically different to that envisioned by its founder. This created special difficulties because the movement had been deprived of the intellectual giant who had led it hitherto.



Trotsky’s prognoses

Before his death Trotsky had made a series of predictions. Four of these would be challenged by the reality of developments after the Second World War.

(1) He had predicted that the Stalinist regime in Russia could not survive the war. Thus, in an article on 1 February 1935, The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism, Trotsky argued that Stalinism, as a form of Bonapartism, “cannot long maintain itself; a sphere balanced on the point of a pyramid must invariably roll down on one side or the other”; hence “the inevitable collapse of the Stalinist regime” would follow. [2]

One outcome might be capitalist restoration. In the thesis War and the Fourth International (10 June 1934) Trotsky wrote that “in the case of a protracted war accompanied by the passivity of the world proletariat, the internal social contradictions in the USSR not only might lead but also have to lead to a bourgeois Bonapartist counter-revolution.” [3]

On 8 July 1936 he put forward an alternative scenario:

The USSR will be able to emerge from a war without a defeat only under one condition, and that is if it is assisted by the revolution in the West or in the East. But the international revolution, the only way of saving the USSR, will at the same time be the death blow for the Soviet bureaucracy. [4]

Whichever perspective is considered, it is clear Trotsky was convinced of the instability of the Stalinist regime, so much so that on 25 September 1939, in an article, The USSR in War, he wrote that “to see the Russian regime as a stable class system would be to place ourselves in a ludicrous position” because at that time it was “just a few years or even a few months prior to its inglorious downfall”. [5]

The actual reality at the end of the Second World War was very different. The Stalinist regime did not collapse. As a matter of fact, after 1945 it went from strength to strength by expanding into Eastern Europe.

(2) Trotsky thought that capitalism was in terminal crisis. As a result production could not expand and, associated with this, there could be no serious social reforms or a rise in the masses’ living standards. In 1938, in The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, Trotsky wrote that the Western world was:

... in an epoch of decaying capitalism: when, in general, there can be no discussion of systematic social reforms and the raising of the masses’ living standards ... when every serious demand of the proletariat and even every serious demand of the petty bourgeoisie inevitably reaches beyond the limits of capitalist property relations and of the bourgeois state. [6]

However, post-war world capitalism was not trapped in general stagnation and decay. Indeed, Western capitalism enjoyed a massive expansion and alongside this came a flourishing of reformism. As Mike Kidron pointed out, “The system as a whole has never grown so fast for so long as since the war – twice as fast between 1950 and 1964 as between 1913 and 1950, and nearly half as a fast again as during the generation before that.” [7]

In consequence the social democratic and Communist parties, far from disintegrating, emerged in the post-war period stronger in number and support than ever before. Reformism flourished on the basis of a rising standard of living.

In Britain, for example, the Attlee government represented the zenith of reformism. Formed in 1945, it was not only the first majority Labour government, it represented the high point of Labour Party history. Whatever the myths regarding the Labour government of 1945-51 there is no doubt that it was the most effective reformist Labour government of them all.

Under Attlee workers and their families fared much better than before the war. The government kept up a high level of expenditure on the social services; while food subsidies were pegged in the April 1949 budget at £465 million, they still represented a formidable sum and did much to keep down the cost of living for working people. And, of course, full employment and relatively mild inflation were immeasurable boons to workers.

One factor ensuring mass support for the government was full employment. Throughout Labour’s tenure of office unemployment was extremely low (except during the fuel crisis of winter 1947 when it reached 3 percent). There were three and a half million more workers employed in June 1951 than six years previously. [8]

The Labour Party’s popularity with workers remained high. In 43 by-elections it lost only one seat! Furthermore the October 1951 general election gave Labour the highest poll ever achieved by one party – 13,948,605 votes, 49.8 percent of the total votes cast. Only the vagaries of the electoral system gave the Tories a majority in parliament. Notwithstanding austerity and rationing at home, and wars overseas, Labour kept its support. [9]

And Britain was not the exception. Throughout Europe the standard of living improved. Full employment, or near full employment, prevailed. Systematic reforms were achieved and mass reformist parties did not wither away. In Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and other countries, social democratic parties ruled for a long time.

(3) Using his theory of permanent revolution, Trotsky argued that in backward, underdeveloped countries the accomplishment of bourgeois democratic tasks – national liberation and agrarian reform – could be advanced only by working class power.

This too was refuted by actual events. In China, the most populous country in the world, Mao led a Stalinist party entirely divorced from the working class to unify the country, win independence from imperialism and institute land reforms. Similar processes occurred elsewhere such as in Cuba and Vietnam.

(4) Finally, if all the above three prognoses had been correct, there would not have been a future for Stalinism or reformism and the future would have been wide open for an extremely rapid advance of the Fourth International. On these grounds Trotsky was very confident that it had a great future in the coming few years.

On 10 October 1938 he wrote:

Mankind has become poorer than it was 25 years ago, while the means of destruction have become infinitely more powerful. In the very first months of the war, therefore, a stormy reaction against the fumes of chauvinism will set in among the working masses. The first victims of this reaction, along with fascism, will be parties of the Second and Third Internationals. Their collapse will be the indispensable condition for an avowed revolutionary movement, which will find for its crystallisation no axis other than the Fourth International. Its tempered cadres will lead the toilers to the great offensive. [10]

Trotsky had already stated that:

When the centennial of The Communist Manifesto [i.e. 1948] is celebrated, the Fourth International will have become the decisive revolutionary force on our planet. [11]

On 18 October 1938, in a speech entitled The Founding of the Fourth International, Trotsky underlined the point:

Ten years! Only ten years! Permit me to finish with a prediction: during the next ten years the programme of the Fourth International will become the guide of millions and these revolutionary millions will know how to storm earth and heaven. [12]

Repeated comments on the same these establish the fact that his statements on the speedy victory of the Fourth International were not throwaway remarks, but were a constant thread until his death.

Alas, this prediction too was unfounded because his prognoses regarding Russia, Western capitalism and the Third World were belied by the actual reality of events after 1945. Very little space remained for the Fourth International – the Trotskyist organisations remained minuscule with very little influence in the working class.



Trotsky’s place in Marxism

A preliminary remark is necessary about the way we Trotskyists should look upon Trotsky. He was a political giant among us: the organiser of the October Revolution, the leader of the Red Army, the leader, with Lenin, of the Communist International.

Again and again, in dealing with the situation in Britain in 1926, or the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, or Germany at the time of the rise of Nazism, France 1936 and Spain 1931-38, Trotsky demonstrated a fantastic ability to analyse complex situations, to prognosticate about future developments, and to suggest the strategy needed.

Trotsky’s words were often prophetic. In many respects his analyses brilliantly stood the test of time. No one among the great Marxist thinkers surpassed him in his ability to use the historical materialist method, to synthesise economic, social and political factors, to see their inter-relationship with the mass psychology of millions, and grasp the import of the subjective factor – the role of workers’ parties and workers’ leaders in the great events. [13] Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution towers over any other Marxist writing of history. It is an analytic and artistic monument of unprecedented richness and beauty. [14]

Trotsky’s writings of the years 1928-40 – the articles, essays and books on developments in Germany, France and Spain – are among the most brilliant Marxist writings. They are in the same league as the best historical writings of Karl Marx: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and The Class Struggles in France. Trotsky did not limit himself to analysing situations but also put forward a clear line of action for the proletariat. In terms of strategy and tactics his writings are extremely valuable revolutionary manuals, comparable to the best produced by Lenin.

One example a precious gem in Trotsky’s works is his writings on Germany in the years preceding Hitler’s rise to power. Germany was the country with the most important working class movement in the world at the time. It was entering a deep slump and social crisis, which was the background to the rapid growth of the Nazi movement. Faced with this, Trotsky brought to bear all his energy and knowledge. In this period he wrote innumerable short books, pamphlets and articles analysing the German situation. They are among the most brilliant pieces of writing he penned. Such prescience on the course of events is found nowhere else. He warned of the catastrophe threatening not only the German working class but also the international working class that would follow the rise of the Nazis. His call for action to stop them, for a united front of all labour movement organisations, became more and more urgent. Tragically his prophetic writings were not heeded. Neither the Communist Party (KPD) nor the Social Democratic Party (SPD) paid any heed. If Trotsky’s analysis and proposals for action had been accepted, the subsequent history of the century would have been completely different. Trotsky’s analysis of German events was particularly impressive in view of the fact that the author was removed from the scene of the events by a considerable distance. Still he managed to follow the day to day twists and turns. Reading Trotsky’s writings of the years 1930-33, their concreteness gives the clear impression that the author must have been living in Germany, not far away on the island of Prinkipo in Turkey. [15]

In the terrible dark days of the 1930s Trotsky shone for us as a brilliant guiding star. With the Nazis’ terrifying advance and the Moscow show trials that condemned the leaders of the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern as Nazi agents, our dependence ideologically and emotionally was deep and understandable. We were quite convinced, and rightly, of the genius of his analysis of the total situation and of the strategy and tactics needed to face it that he developed.



How did the Trotskyists come to terms with the situation after the Second World War?

After the war it was really excruciatingly painful to face the reality that Trotsky’s prognoses regarding the future of the Stalinist regime and the economic, social and political situation in the capitalist West as well as in the backward and developing East did not come true. To repeat Trotsky’s words literally while avoiding facing the real situation was to give too much honour to Trotsky, but also too much insult. It was to treat Trotsky as a supra-historical person; that fits a religious sect but not the disciples of scientific socialism, of Marxism. With a heavy heart we have to remember the saying ascribed to Aristotle: “Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth.”

Understandably, but wrongly, the leadership of the Fourth International by and large refused to face the fact that key prognoses had been refuted by events. Facing this truth was a precondition for answering the question: why did they not come true? Asking the correct question is 90 percent of finding the answer. Long before Isaac Newton, apples used to fall off trees. His asking the question “Why?” led to the law of gravity.

To overcome the crisis in world Trotskyism, one had to face the abyss between Trotsky’s prognoses and reality. This did not necessarily happen.

Take Trotsky’s first prediction. As quoted above, he thought the Stalinist regime would not survive the war. Yet when Stalin continued to control Russia the conclusion of James P. Cannon, leader of the Trotskyists in the United States, was that the war had therefore not ended!

Trotsky predicted that the fate of the Soviet Union would be decided in the war. That remains our firm conviction. Only we disagree with some people who carelessly think that the war is over. The war has only passed through one stage and is now in the process of regroupment and reorganisation for the second. The war is not over, and the revolution which we said would issue from the war in Europe is not taken off the agenda. It has only been delayed and postponed, primarily for lack of a sufficiently strong revolutionary party. [16]

This was an extreme case of scholasticism. In medieval times the scholastics, debating whether oil freezes in winter, did not apply a simple test – putting a container in the snow and watching it – but looked for a quotation from Aristotle on the subject.

Eleven months after the end of the war it became clear even to the most blinkered Trotskyist that the Stalinist regime had survived the war. But they still insisted that the regime was in a very shaky condition. Thus the Fourth International of April 1946 stated:

Without any fear of exaggeration, one can say that the Kremlin has never confronted a more critical situation at home and abroad than it does today. [17]

To support this assertion, the following anecdote was employed:

... there is the incident at a mass meeting addressed by Kalinin where a woman rose up to demand why he was wearing such fine polished boots while the masses had to walk barefoot or in bast shoes. This was indeed audacious! It indicates the degree to which the resentment among the masses against bureaucratic privileges has grown. [18]

However, far from depicting the parlous state of post-war Russia, as I told Ernest Mandel, a leading member of the Fourth International, when I met him in September 1946 in Paris, this story had been published many years before. Indeed, it referred to an incident which had happened more than a quarter century previously!

Nevertheless the conference of the Fourth International in April 1946 continued to assert that:

Behind the appearance of power never before attained, there lurks the reality that the USSR and the Soviet bureaucracy have entered the critical phase of their existence. [19]

Trotsky’s prediction of Stalinist collapse was the inescapable consequence of his analysis of the class character of Russia. If the prediction was wrong then his original analysis necessarily fell into question. If so a new explanation of the Stalinist bureaucracy was necessary. One way of approaching this task was to ask what the class nature was of the countries of Eastern Europe taken over by Stalin, countries soon remodelled as almost exact replicas of Russia itself.

The Fourth International completely accepted Trotsky’s view that Russia was a workers’ state, a “degenerated workers’ state”, a workers’ state distorted by a ruling bureaucracy. Yet if Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary etc had the same nature as Russia, then did it not follow that Stalin had brought about a revolution in Eastern Europe? Was he not therefore a revolutionary rather than a counter-revolutionary? That would not do. At first the leaders of the Fourth International solved the contradiction very simply: despite the similarities between them, the Eastern bloc countries were still capitalist countries, while Russia was a workers’ state.

Mandel stated in September 1946 that “all the People’s Democracies”, Yugoslavia included, were capitalist countries. Stalinists did not bring about a revolution in Eastern Europe, but a counter-revolution. To quote only what he wrote about Yugoslavia and Albania: “In these two countries, the Soviet bureaucracy did not have to carry on any consistent counter-revolutionary activity; the native Stalinists took this upon themselves.” In both countries the Stalinists had constructed a “bourgeois state apparatus”. [20]

For a further two years the Fourth International continued with the same line regarding Eastern Europe. The resolution of the Second World Congress of the Fourth International, April 1948, says on the class nature of the “People’s Democracies” (Yugoslavia included) that “these countries retain their fundamentally capitalist structure ... Thus, while maintaining bourgeois functions and structure, the state of the ‘buffer’ countries represents at the same time an extreme form of Bonapartism.” It continued, “The ‘People’s Democracies’ are capitalist countries with ‘extreme forms of Bonapartism’, ‘police dictatorships’, etc. Therefore, the destruction of capitalism could be carried out only by the ‘revolutionary action of the masses’ which was not yet a fact since a revolution requires the violent destruction of the bureaucratic state machine.” Thus you could not defend any of these states but had to observe the “strictest revolutionary defeatism”. [21]

Two months later, when Tito broke with Stalin, the Fourth International did a somersault: Yugoslavia was not a capitalist country under a police-Bonapartist dictatorship any more, but an authentic workers’ state. On 1 July 1948 the International Secretariat of the Fourth International issued an Open Letter to the Communist Party of Yugoslavia: “You hold in your hands a mighty power if only you persevere on the road of socialist revolution”, and noted in conclusion “the promise of victorious resistance by a revolutionary workers’ party against the Kremlin machine ... Long live the Yugoslav Socialist Revolution”. [22] This was as shallow an analysis as the first position and ignored Tito’s boast to the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in 1948 that he and his friends knew how to tackle “Trotskyist-fascists” by bringing them before the People’s Courts and making them pay the supreme penalty. As Borba of 4 July 1948 put it:

A handful of Trotskyists, who showed their true faces in the was as collaborators and agents of the invaders, ended shamefully before the People’s Courts. [23]

With flip-flops like this taking place so easily, Michel Pablo, general secretary of the Fourth International, carried the new line that Russia’s Eastern bloc were types of workers’ states to the extreme. In 1949 he introduced the notion of “centuries of deformed workers’ states”. [24] In April 1954 Pablo wrote, “Caught between the imperialist threat and the World Revolution, the Soviet bureaucracy aligned itself with the World Revolution.” [25] Furthermore the Soviet bureaucracy was carrying, and would continue to carry, the de-bureaucratisation and “total and actual liberalisation of the regime”. [26] Pablo became an apologist for Stalinism. If there were going to be “centuries of deformed workers’ states” what role was there for Trotskyism or workers’ revolution? Stalinism was made to appear progressive and Trotskyism irrelevant.

Going further than Pablo in baptising different countries as workers’ states was Juan Posadas, the Argentinian Trotskyist and leader of one version of the Fourth International. In addition to the East European countries, Cuba, China, North Vietnam, North Korea and Outer Mongolia, Posadas discovered that a whole number of other countries were workers’ states. Posadas declared:

... the International must follow closely the evolution of a series of countries of Africa [and] Asia, which are developing into workers’ states, such as Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Mali, Guinea, Congo Brazzaville, etc, to determine when they pass into being workers’ states. [27]

Perversely, Posadas looked forward with enthusiasm to a world atomic war. He called on the Soviet Union to nuke the United States. An “Extraordinary Conference” of his Fourth International in 1962 declared:

... atomic war is inevitable. It will destroy perhaps half of humanity; it is going to destroy immense human riches. It is very possible. The atomic war is going to provoke a true inferno on earth. But it will not impede communism. Communism is an achieved necessity, not because of the material goods produced, but because it is in the consciousness of human beings. When humanity reacts and works in a communist form as it is working [sic], there is no atomic bomb capable of turning back that which human consciousness has acquired and learned ...

History, in its violent, spasmodic form, is demonstrating that little time remains for capitalism. Little time. We can say in a completely conscientious and certain way that if the workers’ states fulfil their historical duty of aiding the colonial revolutions, capitalism doesn’t have ten years of life. This is an audacious declaration but it is totally logical. Capitalism hasn’t ten years of life. If the workers’ states launch support of the colonial revolution with all their forces, capitalism has not five years of life, and the atomic war will last a very short time. [28]

Half humanity will be eliminated! But that does not matter: the victory of communism is assured!

We are preparing ourselves for a stage in which before the atomic war we shall struggle for power, during the atomic war we shall struggle for power and we shall be in power, and immediately after the atomic war we shall be in power. There is no beginning, there is an end to atomic war, because atomic war is simultaneous revolution in the whole world; not as a chain reaction, simultaneous. Simultaneity doesn’t mean the same day and the same hour. Great historic events should not be measured by hours or days, but by periods ... The working class alone will maintain itself, will immediately have to seek its cohesion and centralisation ...

After destruction commences, the masses are going to emerge in all countries – in a short time, in a few hours. Capitalism cannot defend itself in an atomic war except by putting itself in caves and attempting to destroy all that it can. The masses, in contrast, are going to come out, will have to come out, because it is the only way to survive, defeating the enemy ... The apparatus of capitalism, police, army, will not be able to resist ... It will be necessary to organise the workers’ power immediately ... [29]

By this logic, if an H-bomb fell on London, the remnants of the working class, paralysed by fear and impotence, would take power! Thus Marxism turns from a shibboleth into a talisman! From workers’ states in which workers have no power, no say, to workers’ revolution as a result of the atomic destruction of workers! What ideological regression. In the 19th century Utopian Socialism was superseded by scientific socialism – Marxism – but now Marxism was being replaced by “miracle” socialism!

Mandel, Pablo and Posadas came from the same stable – dogmatic Trotskyism that stuck to the words of Trotsky while emptying them of their spirit.

What about Trotsky’s second prognosis involving the fate of world capitalism? In the face of a developing boom which would be the longest in capitalism’s history, the Fourth International conference of 1946 declared:

... there is no reason whatsoever to assume that we are facing a new epoch of capitalist stabilisation and development... The war has aggravated the disorganisation of capitalist economy and has destroyed the last possibilities of a relatively stable equilibrium in social and international relations. [30]


The revival of economic activity in capitalist countries weakened by the war, and in particular continental European countries, will be characterised by an especially slow tempo which will keep their economy at levels bordering on stagnation and decay. [31]

It was admitted that “the American economy will soon experience a relative boom ...” but this boom would be short lived: “The United States will then head for a new economic crisis which will be more deep-going and widespread than that of 1929-33, with far more devastating repercussions on world economy.” The prospects for British capitalism were “a lengthy period of grave economic economic difficulties, convulsions, and partial and general crises”. What would be the condition of workers throughout the world? “The proletariat [will] continue to work under far worse living conditions then those existing before the war.” [32]

A rising revolutionary wave was inevitable under these conditions because of:

...the resistance of the proletariat, demanding an improvement in its living conditions, an improvement which is incompatible with the possibility of reviving capitalism.

If the war did not immediately create in Europe a revolutionary upsurge of the scope and tempo we anticipated, it is nonetheless undeniable that it destroyed capitalist equilibrium on a world scale, thus opening up a long revolutionary period ... [33]

The stagnation of world capitalism and mass unemployment would generate a general revolutionary situation:

What confronts us now is a worldwide crisis transcending anything known in the past, and a worldwide revolutionary upsurge developing, to be sure, at unequal tempos in different parts of the world, but unceasingly exercising reciprocal influence from one centre to another, and thus determining a long revolutionary perspective. [34]

In 1946 the Fourth International predicted that the revolutionary wave would be much broader and higher than that which followed the First World War:

Following World War One, the graph of revolutionary struggle was characterised at the outset by a brief and precipitate rise, which attained its peak by the spring of 1919, and was followed by a sharp and continuous decline, interrupted only by a new and very brief upswing in 1923.

This time the graph of revolutionary struggle begins with a slow and hesitant rise, interrupted by many oscillations or partial retreats, but its general tendency is upwards. The importance of this fact is obvious. While the post World War One movement suffered from the very beginning from the burden of initial defeats, above all in Germany, the present movement, on the contrary, suffers from the fact that at no time as yet have the full forces of the proletariat been thrown into battle. The defeats, therefore, are transient and relative in character, do not jeapordise the subsequent developments of events, and can be neutralised by the passage of the struggle to a more advanced stage. [35]

The only other alternative envisioned was that, if the revolutionary wave did not lead to proletarian victory, bourgeois democracy would be replaced in a very short time by new fascist regimes:

From the moment that it acquires its own repressive apparatus again, and the economic and social conditions threaten the existence of its system, the big bourgeoisie will answer every action of the proletarian masses with merely larger and larger financial contributions to the neo-fascist “leaders”. Their sole difficulty here will be one of choice; for if we study attentively the political situation in the various European countries, we find already, on the political scene, not one, but several figures who are potential Doriots, Mussolinis and Degrelles of tomorrow. In this sense the fascist danger already exists on the entire continent. [36]

In 1947 Mandel wrote an article which reached the following conclusions:

... the following [are] characteristics of the cycle of production under capitalist decadence:

(a) The crises last longer, are more violent, and carry a much longer stagnation that the period of revival and prosperity. Ascendant capitalism appeared as a long prosperity, interrupted by brief interludes of crisis. Decadent capitalism appears as a long crisis interrupted by revivals which are more and more unstable and brief.

(b) The world market ceases to expand globally. There is no more boom on a world scale. The splitting up of the world market or the violent destruction of a competitor alone allows for the development of feverish booms in certain capitalist countries.

(c) There is no more all round development of productive forces on a national scale. Even during the period of ‘prosperity’ certain branches develop only at the expense of other branches. Advances in technology are no longer or are only very partially incorporated in production.

(d) There is no more all round amelioration of the standard of living of the industrial workers from one revival to another. This naturally does not exclude either a relative “amelioration” between the crisis and the revival, or a relative amelioration of the position of unemployed or peasants etc., transformed during the “revival” into industrial workers. [37]

What a fantasy world!

Anybody reading today, for the first time, the above statements of Mandel, Pablo and Posadas and of the Fourth International must be shocked that rational human beings could carry such illusions. There is no one so blind as he who will not see. The leading members of the Trotskyist movement made enormous efforts to avoid looking at reality. In retrospect one cannot but be surprised. But to understand the refusal of the leading Trotskyists to confront reality one must understand how much pain this reality inflicted upon them, shattering the grand hopes they had. The Trotskyist movement acted like the Christian sects in the 16th and 17th centuries who clung onto the old ideas of medieval times when that world was disintegrating and the new capitalist once was still being established. Their burning of witches was an irrational act, but it can be explained rationally.

However one understands the motives behind Mandel, Pablo and Posadas, they cannot be justified. For Marxists, rule number one is, if you want to change reality, you must understand it. The disarray in the ranks of the Trotskyist movement, the zigzags, the splits, were an inevitable product of not grasping the real situation in which the working class found itself. They were trying to chart a course with a map that was hopelessly out of date. This world Trotskyism entered a cul-de-sac. The general crisis of the movement demanded a radical re-evaluation of the perspectives of humanity.



Preserving Trotskyism while deviating from the letter of Trotsky’s words

The few comrades who started the International Socialist tendency were not prepared to use Marxism as a substitute for reality, but on the contrary wished it to be a weapon helping to master reality. In the years 1946-48 we had to wrestle with very difficult questions. We had to be clear that we were continuing a tradition – that we were followers of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky – but that we had to face new situations. It was both a continuation and a new beginning. Intellectual toughness does not mean dogmatism; grasping a changing reality does not mean vagueness. Our criticism of orthodox Trotskyism was conceived as a return to classical Marxism.

The discussion which follows below will not approach the issues on the basis of hindsight. Hindsight vision is always perfect. We shall have to see how three theories evolved in reaction to events shortly after the end of the Second World War – the theories of state capitalism, the permanent arms economy and deflected permanent revolution. The three areas these dealt with – Russia and Eastern Europe, advanced capitalist countries, and the Third World – covered the whole globe.

Here each question will initially be treated as separate. Only later will it be possible to find their interconnections and thus explain the total pattern of development. Only standing on the top of a mountain and looking down can one see how the different paths converge.




1. K. Marx, The Civil War in France (Moscow, 1977).

2. L. Trotsky, Writings 1934-35 (New York, 1974), pp.181-82.

3. L. Trotsky, Writings 1933-34 (New York, 1974), p.316.

4. L. Trotsky, Writings 1935-36 (New York, 1974), p.260.

5. L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism (London, 1971), pp.16-17.

6. W. Reisner (ed.), Documents of the Fourth International (New York, 1973), p.183.

7. M. Kidron, Western Capitalism Since the War (London, 1970), p.11.

8. T. Cliff and D. Gluckstein, The Labour Party: A Marxist History (London, 1988), p.227.

9. Ibid., p.253.

10. L. Trotsky, Writings 1938-38 (New York, 1974), p.78.

11. L. Trotsky, Writings 1937-38 (New York, 1974), p.27.

12. L. Trotsky, Writings 1938-39, op. cit., p.87.

13. See T .Cliff, Trotsky: The Darker the Night the Brighter the Star (London, 1993), p.198.

14. Ibid., p.383.

15. Ibid., p.109.

16. This statement was made in November 1945. See J.P. Cannon, The Struggle for Socialism in the “American Century” (New York, 1977), p.200.

17. Fourth International, April 1946.

18. Ibid..

19. Fourth International, June 1946.

20. E. Germain (Mandel), The Soviet Union After the War, Fourth International, September 1946.

21. Fourth International, June 1948.

22. Fourth International, August 1948.

23. Quoted in T. Cliff, Neither Washington Nor Moscow (London, 1982), pp.84-85.

24. See On the Issue of the Class Nature of Yugoslavia, published in the October 1949 issue of International Information Bulletin.

25. Internal Bulletin of the LSSP, Ceylon, April 1954, p.7.

26. Ibid., p.15.

27. Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism (Durham and London, 1991), p.664.

28. Ibid., p.334.

29. Ibid., pp.663-664.

30. Fourth International, June 1946.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid.

35. E. Germain (Mandel), The First Phase of the European Revolution, in Fourth International, August 1946.

36. E. Germain (Mandel), Problems of the European Revolution, in Fourth International, September 1946.

37. E. Germain (Mandel), From the ABC to Current Reading: Boom, Revival or Crisis?. A refutation of Mandel’s attempt to deny the evidence of economic recovery was carried out by T. Cliff in an article called All that Glitters is not Gold reprinted in T. Cliff, Neither Washington Nor Moscow, op. cit., pp.24-39.


Last updated on 30.7.2002