Jim Higgins

Too much Cogitation is bad for Monty’s eyesight

(August 1976)

From Workers News, No.10, Aug-Sept 1976.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

YOU CANNOT help having a sneaking regard for Monty Johnstone. He is quite un-putdownable. Not only that, by a quirk of an unjust world, he seems to have discovered some spring of eternal youth.

Perhaps that is why his best writing is reserved for the pages of the Young Communist League magazine, Cogito. In the late 1960s he produced a lengthy critique of Trotsky and Trotskyism part 1.

Despite a promise, in part 1, of an early appearance of part 2, we have had to wait 7 years to get the full beauty of Monty’s thought on the question. But now it is with us and it would be surly to cavil at the delay.

Monty Johnstone has some credentials, that set him apart from his fellow CP authors on the subject, to write on Trotskyism; In his extreme youth he was a Trotskyist, a trauma which – if it did not last long – must have left lasting scars.

He has actually read the source material, which as I say puts him one up on such as John Mahon, Willie Gallagher, William Wainwright, Betty Reid, Marjorie Pollitt, J.R.Campbell and a host of others – who have vented their ignorant literary spleen on Trotsky.

Monty knows that Trotsky was not in the pay of the Mikado (the one in Japan, not the Labour MP), Adolf Hitler or anyone else and, refreshingly, he says so. He takes some pains to point out that on Germany, during the rise of Nazism, Trotsky was right and Stalin, and the Comintern, were wrong.

That, however, is as far as Monty will go. On every other question Trotsky was wrong, apparently. The “fallacy” in Trotsky’s thought is traced back to his theory of Permanent Revolution. This theory, placing as it does the working class as the central core of socialist strategy and action, blinded poor old Trotsky so it seems, to the great revolutionary potential of the middle classes, the peasantry and the “progressive” capitalists, as represented, for example, by the Kuo-Min-Tang.

Now, of course, this is a point of view, and one that has activated the minds of the Stalinist wing of communism for many years. It is not, nevertheless, the only view on the question.

It is for example the view of quite a number of people that the theory of permanent revolution is one that explains, in a Marxist way, the developments of the post-war period in Eastern Europe and China and several other “workers’ paradises”.

The pity of Trotsky’s theory is that the “old man” did not follow through its logic. Perversely, in my view, he insisted on calling Russia a “workers’ state” long after the working class content had been crushed.

But all of this is, perhaps, beside the point. Monty is, of course entitled to his point of view. Trotsky, for the sake of the argument, could have been wrong, on all the major questions – on Russia and the world, in the 1920s and 1930s.

But he was not wrong historically. It was in the context of a debate about the future of the Soviet state, the nature of the workers parties, the prospect of world revolution. Now those are very big themes, and so heated was the struggle that a lot of people had to die before Stalin felt that he had won.

Stalin was in alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev against Trotsky from 1923 to 1925. Then he was in alliance with Bukharin, and Tomsky against Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev.

Not very much later between 1936 and 1938, Bukharin, Rykov, Zinoviev and Kamenev were judically murdered by Stalin (Tomsky committed suicide).

In part 1 of his work Monty Johnstone conceded, readily, that the Moscow trials were a frame-up: What he did not make clear, though, was the reason for the need of such a method of winning an argument.

The fact is that Stalin was neither right or wrong on the questions Monty Johnstone discusses. Zinoviev and Kamenev were right, or wrong. Bukharin was right, or wrong. But Stalin just won the arguments and in the end it was with a gun or a long distance ice-axe.

In the process the Communist International was transformed into an instrument of Russian policy. The Communist Parties became the extension of Russian diplomacy. And almost without exception the men who made the revolution were killed, disgraced or capitulated completely.

Now sophisticated CP apologists will argue, with the characteristic dialectical chop-logic of the breed, that whatever the crimes of Stalin, whatever the inadequacy of his theoretical grasp, it all came right in the end.

Well that too is a point of view. Even if it flies in the face of all the facts, and it ignores the divisions in the Communist movement, and the abject failure of the Western Communist parties to see any route to socialism except via a bourgeois parliament.

It is true that Trotsky had his failings but he never dreamed that working class power could be exercised through a capitalist institution. For Monty and his chums in the Italian CP this may smack of ultra-leftism; for others it sounds dangerously like marxism.

Our advice to Monty Johnstone is that, now he has completed his work on Trotsky, he should reexamine the Stalinist tradition and attempt to explain the phenomena of the late J.V.Stalin. It will be instructive, worthwhile for the YCL and will undoubtedly get him a highly paid post squaring circles.


Last updated on 2.11.2003