C.L.R. James

Six Questions to Trotskyists – And Their Answers

(February 1938)

Source: Controversy, Vol. 2 Nos. 17–8, February–March 1938.
Transcribed: Christian Høgsbjerg for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(I) The Questions. By “Yalta” (C.P.G.B.)

In an endeavour to clear the air between the Trotskyist and the official Communist view, I have set out some remarks and pertinent questions on six of the salient points of difference. These are as follow:

(II) The Answers. By C. L. R. James

(1) War. If the proletariat of Spain and China is to pursue its immediate aims of social revolution, who will stop the Fascists overrunning their countries? And where will your fine revolutionaries be then?

If the proletariat of all countries simultaneously did the same, no doubt all would be well. But that “if” is so big. We know, unless we wilfully blind ourselves to objective facts as the Trotskyists do, that, thanks to the law of uneven development of capitalism, the proletariat of all countries is not ready to unite. Some are bound by the chains of Fascism; others are hoodwinked by the spell of bourgeois-reformist leaders. In many countries (e.g., China, India, Africa) the proletariat simply does not exist in significant numbers, because a feudal or peasant economy has not yet given place to capitalism. Refusal to face these facts is criminal folly, and ignorance of the Marxist interpretation of history.

(1) The first question does not make sense. That the proletariat of China has social revolution as an immediate aim is news to me. The Trotskyists say that only the social revolution will liberate China from Japanese imperialism, but we know the workers must be convinced of this before they can have it as an immediate aim. The immediate tactic is to fight Japan side by side with Chiang Kai-Shek. Marxism tells us that he will betray, but it is his betrayal which will open the eyes of the workers. And when a revolutionary party has enough support to raise openly as a slogan “Down with the landlords and capitalists, form Soviets to fight Japan and its Chinese allies,” then the Japanese will find an enemy in every peasant and every worker. They can conquer Chiang Kai-Shek’s armies, they cannot conquer a revolutionary nation in arms. Peasants who have the land, and workers who have the factories, they will stop Fascists overrunning their countries. When the urban petty-bourgeoisie see the workers and peasants in revolutionary action, they will follow.

That is the policy which saved the Russian Revolution. That is the policy to work for, while never ceasing to fight Japan. Spain illustrates this policy in action. By the end of 1936, in many parts of Spain the workers had already seized economic power. For cynical shamelessness it is impossible to excel the avowal of Jose Diaz, Secretary of the C.P. in Spain, that in the beginning when the big landlords and manufacturers had deserted their factories and estates “socialisation” and “collectivisation” might have been necessary, but now it was absolutely impermissible (The Communist International, Vol. xiv No. 4, p. 1002). “Many important Socialist leaders” seeing the revolution in process of achievement, “demanded that a Socialist Republic should be immediately established.” These are the words of Andre Marty (Communist International, Vol. xiv Nos. 5–6, p. 1092). Why wasn’t it established? Marty tells us, “Thanks to the activities of the Communist Party” the Socialists changed their minds. It is the Stalinist bureaucracy which has killed the revolution in Spain. And how those workers and peasants would have fought for a Spain which was theirs. Where would Franco have found a base?

“Yalta” seems to think that the workers and peasants in one country must wait for the workers and peasants to be ready to act everywhere? Is this some more Stalinism? We are surprised at little these people say nowadays. I only want to know. And in India and China, “a feudal or peasant economy has not yet given place to capitalism.” Then what of the Chinese trade unions with nearly three million members in 1927? Ignorance is permissible, “Yalta,” but it must not be paraded.

(2) Revolution. Cloaking their ignorance in revolutionary phrases, the Trotskyists upbraid the Communist Party for its tactics, accuse it of reformism, betraying the revolution, etc. It is easy to talk about what all revolutionary Socialists would like to happen, but ask yourself, have the objective conditions existed for revolution in this country at any time since the Bolshevik revolution? Have the masses been ready for it, imbued with fiery hatred, furnished with the necessary arms and organised leadership? The mere question is absurd. Or would you prefer to see the revolution pressed upon countries unprepared for it, by Russian bayonets? Lenin said,

“It is impossible to ‘make’ a revolution ... Revolutions grow out of crises and culminations of history that are objectively ripened.”

As regards other countries, a similar refusal to face objective facts underlies the Trotskyists’ fury that the world revolution has not yet come about. Revolution cannot succeed unless it is based on the masses, and reflects their immediate needs. We all know that the Chinese Revolution suffered a temporary setback in 1927, and some see in the new alliance of the Communists with the Kuomintang a further retreat from, revolutionary policy. But no amount of argument, no change in tactics, can escape the fact that in the objective situation of the moment, conditions are not ripe for the prosecution of a militant policy. Lenin always insisted on the need for knowing when to retreat, to compromise, to make agreements and zigzags. His N.E.P. policy is a classic example. But what was good enough for Lenin is not good enough for the Trotskyists. Faithful to their “ideal,” which has no concrete existence outside their own minds, they are incapable of seeing anything else.

The Chinese situation is most admirably described by Edgar Snow in his new book, Red Star Over China, which should be studied by every Socialist. On the need for the national United Front against Japan, and the temporary cessation of revolutionary struggle, he quotes Mao Tse-tung, the Communist leader:

“The victory of the Chinese national liberation movement will be part of the victory of world Communism, because to defeat imperialism in China means the destruction of one of its most powerful bases. If China wins its independence, the world revolution will progress very rapidly. If our country’ is subjugated by the enemy, we shall lose everything. For a people being deprived of its national freedom, the revolutionary task is not immediate Socialism, but the struggle for independence. We cannot even discuss Communism if we are robbed of a country in which to practise it.” (My italics.)

The same goes for Spain.

(2) We accuse Stalinism of betrayal in Spain. “Yalta” replies: Have the objective conditions existed in Britain? Well hit, sir!

Now, however, for a lesson in the dialectic. In 1923 Germany was the key to the international situation. If the Stalinists had seriously tried and succeeded in establishing a Soviet Germany, then the 1924 MacDonald Government in Britain and the Left Coalition in France might have been preludes to a Soviet Britain and a Soviet France. But after the German defeat, due to Stalinist treachery, American capital stabilised Europe, the Left Coalition subsided to Poincaré, the MacDonald Government gave way to Baldwin. Yet such was the explosive force generated in Britain that the workers achieved the General Strike. Where would they have reached with Germany a Workers’ State? Stalinists, in the bureaucratic blinkers of Socialism in a single country, have lost all sensitiveness to the international character of the revolutionary movement.

It is in this sense only that the objective conditions for revolution have existed in Britain since the war. We have never said more, but we shall not say less.

“The first necessity of any country menaced by Fascism, whether capitalist and oppressor (i.e., France and Britain), or colonial and oppressed (i.e., China and India), is the unity of all democratic forces to resist the threat of war ...”

Strange mentality which links France, Britain, India, China as menaced by Fascism, does not distinguish between Fascism at home and Fascism abroad, and puts forward this gabble about democratic forces. France and Britain are imperialist, China is semi-colonial, and India is colonial. When the French bourgeoisie and the Communist Party tell the French workers to fight for France against Germany, the Trotskyists say,

“No. To fight for France is to fight for French capitalism, to keep enslaved North Africa and Indo-China, to maintain the present system. You capitalists hate the Workers’ State far more than you hate capitalist Germany. You command army, navy, and state, and as soon as you get the chance you will betray the U.S.S.R. and keep us in the same slavery as before. No.”

In China, however, the Trotskyists say,

“Chiang Kai-Shek one of the democratic forces? Lies and nonsense. He has persecuted more revolutionaries, than any living man. But Japan aims at making China a colony. That would be a victory for imperialism. So while Chiang – to save his own skin – fights against Japan, the revolutionary movement will fight side by side. But we shall never, call him democratic or look upon him as anything else but an enemy. And as soon as he begins to look for a compromise with Japan, we shall point it out, and when enough of the workers have seen it we shall overthrow him.”

The policy may fail, but if Japan conquers China we shall work underground along parallel lines. There is one more point to be made clear. Japan must not be resisted because Japan is Fascist. That Stalinist line is a deliberate and poisonous falsehood. If Japan were a democracy, as France is today, she would still have to be thrown out of China as democratic France and Britain out of Africa and Britain out of India and Hong-Kong.

(3) Popular Front. What, then, is the objection to the Popular Front as a tactic of the moment? Is it not obvious that in the objective situation, the primary danger is the aggression of Fascism, which if unchecked will sweep away all working-class opposition for years? The first necessity of every country menaced by Fascism, whether capitalist and oppressor (e.g., France and Britain) or colonial and oppressed (e.g., China and India) is the unity of all democratic forces to resist the threat of war which would banish all the forms of democracy in Fascist and non-Fascist countries alike. It is all very well to talk internationalism like H. G. Wells, but the objective fact is that very few people are international-minded. They feel, quite rightly, that the conquest of their territory by Fascism would be a very bad thing. It is not necessary to be a chauvinistic patriot to feel this. And so thinking Socialists are unable to adopt the ostrich-like attitude of Trotskyism to the menace of war and Fascism, but they seek practical ways of countering it.

Is it not obvious, too, that if Fascism is denied any outlet for expansion, it will be turned into itself, and destroyed by its own inherent contradictions? And will not this bring about the revolutionary victory of the proletariat?

But Trotskyists, being too near Fascism in mentality, cannot be expected to see this, for in place of the objective viewpoint of Marxism they substitute their own subjective imaginations.

(3) “Yalta” is muddled in details, but like a blind man, he has hold of his stick – the Popular Front is a weapon against Fascist aggression. The Popular Front as an internal tactic has been exposed sufficiently in Controversy. I shall only deal with it as a weapon against war. Let us have a dialogue.

“Yalta”: But supposing Fascist Germany attacks the U.S.S.R., are you not in favour of supporting the British and French Governments in an attack on Fascist Germany?

James: Under no circumstances. Such action would help the German capitalists to represent the war as one of self-defence; it would immensely strengthen the British capitalists, and weaken the British workers; it would put British imperialism, in the event of victory, in a favourable position for going on to attack the U.S.S.R.; it would mean suppressing the inevitable and natural revolts of the peoples of India and the British Empire. On the contrary, support and extension of the workers’ struggle against exploitation, profiteering and oppression in wartime (a struggle which is unavoidable in any case), developing it into a struggle against the war itself, and for the overthrow of the capitalist class would undermine Hitler’s own front, as pointed out previously, and would be the most effective assistance British class-conscious workers could give to the U.S.S.R. in such circumstances.

“Yalta”: You low, counter-revolutionary agent of the Gestapo, etc., etc. (See any recent writing of Stalin, Dimitrov, Pollitt, etc., down to Dickins.)

But, lo and behold! ... This low, treacherous counter-revolutionary Trotskyist is merely repeating the words of R. F. Andrews in a Communist Party pamphlet The Labour Party and the Menace of War, pp. 22/3. These brazen rascals sold this pamphlet until the middle of 1935. Then Stalin signs a pact with Laval and, presto! they recall the pamphlet and describe as agents of Hitler all who are not dictaphones of Moscow. If Stalin signs a pact with Laval, that is, unfortunately, necessary. But the moment he calls on the revolutionary workers to shift their policy to suit, then we say,

“No, we shall do what the C.P. preached up to 1935.

“If Fascism is denied any outlet ... it will be turned into itself ... destroyed by its own inherent contradictions.”

So German and Italian capitalism, armed to the teeth, will just allow themselves to dissolve in revolution, like ice-cream in hot water! Is this ignorance, stupidity or rank dishonesty?

(4) Equality. So far as I can gather, the chief objection of Trotskyists to the present economic structure of the U.S.S.R. is the inequality of earnings. This is mere distortion and/or ignorance of Marxism. Engels wrote:

“Any demand for equality which goes beyond the demand for the abolition of classes is a stupid and absurd prejudice.”

Lenin and Stalin have carried out the line of Marx and Engels, who said:

“Equality is an empty phrase unless by equality is meant the abolition of classes. We want to abolish classes, and in that respect we are in favour of equality. But the claim that we want to make all men equal to each other is an empty phrase and a stupid invention of the intellectuals.”

Economic classes have been abolished in Soviet Russia, with effects that can be seen by any visitor to have resulted in marked increase of prosperity for the whole, working class and peasantry. Payment being according to social value of work, the necessary condition of a Socialist as opposed to a Communist society, there are naturally differences in earnings, reflecting the varying ability of workers. If Trotsky would like to drag all down to the same level, he would, I fear, receive scant support from the keen and energetic workers of the U.S.S.R., who are grateful for the opportunity of enriching society and themselves simultaneously, and whose success, being based on ability alone and not economic power, produces no signs of envy or resentment among less gifted workers – except perhaps among a few unsuccessful and embittered Trotskyists.

(4) “Economic classes have been abolished in the Soviet Union ...” But the All-Highest in his speech on the Draft Constitution at the Eighth Congress has said there are two classes in Russia, workers and peasants. Be careful, “Yalta;” do be careful. Next thing you will be confessing that you poisoned sheep or something. That would be your business. But you would be called a Trotskyist and we should not like that.

Trotskyists do not object to inequality in the Soviet Union. We deny that Socialism exists in the U.S.S.R., and, ipso facto, we expect inequality; but while there must be, for a long time, inequality in, e.g., workers’ wages, it must progressively decrease. After 1917 there was inequality in workers’ wages to the extent of about 40 per cent. In 1929 shock brigaders gained specially high wages. Now in 1937 we have Stakhanovites with wages 20 times as much as that of the unskilled labourer. This is the variation amongst the proletariat only, and we say that it is an alarming tendency.

(5) Production. The question of equality is, of course, bound up with that of production. When production has surpassed the levels of capitalist society and provided the universal plenty which is the aim of Communism, it will be possible to go forward to the slogan of “to each according to his needs” – which it should be noted will still not involve equality, for needs are not all alike.

But how do Trotskyists imagine this state of affairs is to be brought about? They appear to believe that the material needs for the satisfaction of human wants grow on trees, and that only a readjustment of income structure is needed to produce a satisfied community. But as anyone but a dunce knows, the material conditions for a Communist society do not yet exist in the U.S.S.R, Production has got to be increased many hundredfold first. How is this going to be done? Will men accept responsibility or work harder for the same wages as a slacker? Is the man who achieves new production records, or makes a great invention, to go unrewarded? To imagine that men will do these things for the mere love of society is to display a woeful ignorance of human nature as it is conditioned by centuries of capitalist greed and individualism. The plain fact is that Trotskyists get no further than wishful thinking, and hence their constructive ideas are about as useful as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

They inveigh against bureaucracy, the Stakhanov system, and, in fact, all discipline. They refuse to face the practical needs of organising a new and more efficient production of industry; which, with the abolition of capitalism and the private profit motive, necessarily involves a centralised and planned control. How else are the millions of workers, for the most part relatively ignorant of and uninterested in theoretical Socialism, to be induced to play their part in the national economy? Trotskyists would appear to prefer the “freedom” of local uncoordinated control which is little better than anarchism, and which led to such utter chaos when tried out in the episode of “workers’ control” in 1917–18.

Without the vast statistical service of Gosplan, without the machinery of: Commissariats and Trusts, admittedly imperfect and bureaucratic though they may be, without the collectivisation of agriculture, without the sacrifices involved in building up the means of production, the Russian people would be condemned to a primitive mode of production and a low standard of living. Trotskyists, however, disdain to face economic facts or to answer the undeniable fact that the correctness of Stalin’s policy is now being vindicated by material results, the steadily rising standard of living. They need to learn the true meaning of freedom, which Marx defined as “the recognition of necessity.”

(5) “Yalta” says that before there can be anything like equality in the U.S.S.R., production must increase many times, there must be plan, organisation, etc. We agree. Only we have been saying so since 1923, and Stalinism opposed it for years. Let “Yalta” dare to deny that Trotsky proposed the Five-Year Plan.

(6) Discipline. It is not as if Trotskyist ideas had not been tried out and proved a failure time and again, in the U.S.S.R., in China, and in Spain. Trotsky’s vituperations were suffered with the utmost forbearance for many years; but when his policy was defeated in 1927 by 724,000 votes to 4,060, and he still continued in opposition despite the rule of the Party which all members agree to on joining, and which requires them to abide by majority decisions, can he complain of his disgrace and exile?

Socialist society will always need to protect itself front the “permanent revolution” of the permanent misfits, too lazy and inefficient to master the practical details of day to day life and Socialist production.

Lost in day-dreams of distant Utopias, with their heads in the clouds of idealism, they are no more dialectical materialists than the playboy George Bernard Shaw or the dreamer H. G. Wells

(6) So Trotskyist ideas were tried and proved a failure, not only in China and Spain but in the U.S.S.R.! What next, O Lord, what next? We always understood that the party consistently rejected the counter-revolutionary line of Trotsky for the pure gold of Stalin, who, carrying the icon of Lenin, led the party consistently to success. But now “Yalta” comes with another tale. The Trotskyist policy, it seems, was tried in the U.S.S.R. Who allowed this? Obviously it must have been St ... No, even I, a Trotskyist, cannot write this heresy. What a pitiable mess it all is!

Yet this article, with all its inaccuracies and stupidities, is significant. It betrays the mental morass into which Stalinism has thrown thousands of people who look towards Marxism as a road out of the difficulties of the age. Comic in isolation, “Yalta” is a tragic figure because symbolical. The lesson is plain. Marxists, whilst ready for United Fronts on specific issues, must ideologically cut themselves away from anything smelling of Stalinism and band together under a clearly defined banner. This can only be the Fourth International.

Six Questions Not Answered – by Yalta

(from Controversy, no. 18, March 1938)

(1) The first question raised in my article last month concerned war, but James is apparently as impervious to bullets as he is to Marxism, for he ignores the question as if war did not exist or threaten, and goes on to discuss social revolution. Until he will face up to the realities of the Fascist wars now raging, and others in preparation, we shall argue at cross-purposes.

The question can be quite simply put. Which offers the better chance of establishing Socialism in the future; a free and independent Spain under the Republican Government, or a Fascist Spain controlled by Franco, Hitler and Mussolini? In which part of Spain to-day are the workers’ Trade Unions disbanded?

To win the war, that is the crucial point – not the historical necessity, at some time, for the overthrow of the Spanish bourgeoisie by a proletarian revolution. No Communist disputes that.

Granted that it is primarily a military and not a social problem at present, Trotskyists attempt to link up the two by declaring that a social revolution will help the military cause of the Republic.

This is an unproved assertion, to which history and expert military opinion give a negative answer. I prefer this answer to the subjective opinions of self-styled revolutionaries whose spying activities for the forces of reaction have been conclusively proved by documentary evidence.

(2) So the revolutionary situation in Germany in 1923 was betrayed by “Stalinist treachery”? Really, James, you must do better than this. Were there any Stalinists in 1923? It is the first I have heard of them. I thought, in my ignorance, that Lenin was then leader of the Soviet Union, with both Stalin and Trotsky occupying relatively minor positions. Correct me if I am wrong.

Catchphrases such as “Stalinist bureaucracy” are poor screens for the total bankruptcy of Trotsky’s policy.

(3) To answer the question of the Popular Front, James resorts to the typically Trotskyist manoeuvre of inventing and putting into my mouth a fictitious dialogue in order to permit himself to give the replies he wants!

However, he delivers himself of a magnificent piece of folly, in proudly producing the cut-and-dried formula that in no circumstances must workers support a democratic Government in defence of the Soviet Union against Fascist Germany. His avowed preference for “what the C.P. preached up to 1935” is the best evidence of his own stupidity; for can it be denied that the world situation changes from day to day, and demands new revolutionary tactics?

Or perhaps James has discovered a way of making the universe and society conform to his own private views, instead of to the laws of their own dialectic. But then, as Lenin remarked:

“One must have the brains to analyse the situation in each separate case.”

The essence of Marxism is its flexibility, and Lenin, who even James will grant, I think, to have been the greatest exponent of Marxism in theory and practice, emphasised:

“ ... that the revolutionary class must be ready to pass from one form to another in the quickest and most unexpected manner.”

(4) Trotskyists deny that Socialism exists in the U.S.S.R. All right. So what? That does not prevent it existing and progressing exactly as predicted by Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The latter, for instance:

“... Marx shows the course of development of Communist society, which is forced at first to destroy only the ‘injustice’ that consists in the means of production having been seized by private individuals, and which is not capable of destroying at once the further injustice consisting in the distribution of the articles of consumption ‘according to work performed’ and not according to need.” (Lenin’s italics.)

(5) Now that the Five-Year Plan has so manifestly succeeded, Trotsky claims, through his lieutenant James, the authorship of it! And we are expected to forget how bitterly he fought against it. Also the fact that Lenin first suggested the Plan in 1921, at a time when Trotsky had only recently joined the Bolshevik Party – when he saw it was winning.

(6) Finding himself unable to answer my accusation of indiscipline against Trotsky, James tries to trip me up with a quibble. But even here he comes to grief with a complete non sequitur. Trotsky was for several years in a position of some power in the U.S.S.R., the official Opposition, in fact. Lenin was until 1924 the leader of the Party if, then, Trotskyist ideas were put into practice during this period, how was Stalin responsible: Your zeal ran away with you that time, James.

The distortions and evasions of Trotskyists are crimes against the working class. Lenin describe such people pungently:

“In reality they are only fleeing from then own shadow, only closing their eyes to difficulties, only trying to brush them aside with mere words.”

Last updated on 11 September 2015