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Workers Socialist Review

Magazine of the Workers Socialist League
Affiliated to the Trotskyist International Liaison Committee

Written: 1982.
First Published: September 1982.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
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Workers Socialist Review
No. 2, September 1982

The texts and the method

By Jackie Cleary

Time and again the same quotations from Trotsky have been used to justify a pro-Argentine stance in the Falklands / Malvinas war. But the main thing the quotations prove is the pro-Argentine comrades’ lack of grip on the points in dispute.

Everyone in the WSL majority would agree that if the comparison with China and the other colonies and semi-colonies of the 1930s referred to by Trotsky is legitimate, then we would not invoke the character of the Argentine regime as a reason for not siding with Argentina.

We could immediately arrive at agreement if the pro-Argentine comrades would – or could – tell us how, in what way, for what real national-liberation goals, or in what social / economic / political sense Argentina is fighting imperialism in the Falklands. But they can’t.

Pro-Argentine comrades quote Trotsky (Writings 1938-9, p. 34) saying that he would side with ‘semi-fascist’ Brazil against ‘democratic’ Britain in a hypothetical war because: “If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro [i.e. will control Brazil] and will place double chains on Brazil [i.e. conquer it, or force territorial concessions from it, or unequal treaties, or impose political conditions which tie it economically to Britain’s empire]”.

Trotsky was quite right, in our view. If a similar situation arises today, what he wrote will be a blueprint for our attitudes.

They quote Trotsky in 1937 rejecting defeatism for China which was, under Chiang Kai-shek, beginning to organise a national war of liberation to drive out the Japanese armies that had been on Chinese territory since 1931 and against which the Trotskyists had consistently called for a national war of liberation.

We believe Trotsky was 100% right about China. His comments as quoted would serve perfectly to guide us for any more or less comparable situation today.

But what Trotsky wrote about China naturally cannot serve as a concrete analysis of any situation today! That we must make for ourselves. And only on the basis of that analysis can we decide how much of Trotsky’s blueprint is relevant to the given situation.

The comrades quote Trotsky advocating world working class support for Mexico (Writings 1938-9, p.64), whose radical, perhaps quasi-revolutionary, bourgeois government had nationalised British oilfields.

Yes indeed. Trotsky was a good communist! But he was also a good Marxist.

They quote him pledging support for even the ‘barbarian’ Bey of Tunis to drive out France * (Writings 1938-9, p. 66). Yes! Trotsky had attended the Second Congress of the Communist International. He even wrote its manifesto, which said this:

“The Socialist who aids directly or indirectly in perpetuating the privileged position of one nation at the expense of another, who accommodates himself to colonial slavery, who draws a line of distinction between races and colours in the matter of human rights, who helps the bourgeoisie of the metropolis to maintain its rule over the colonies instead of aiding the armed uprising of the colonies; the British Socialist who fails to support by all possible means the uprisings in Ireland, Egypt and India against London plutocracy – such a socialist deserves to be branded with infamy, if not with a bullet, but in no case merits either a mandate or the confidence of the proletariat”.

He had supported the wretched Negus, Haile Selassie, against the Italian invasion. He even wrote this, which is a tremendous statement of the principles that must animate us on the national question:

“What characterises Bolshevism on the national question is that in its attitude toward oppressed nations, even the most backward, it considers them not only the object but also the subject of politics. Bolshevism does not confine itself to recognising their ‘right’ to self-determination and to parliamentary protests against the trampling upon of this right. Bolshevism penetrates into the midst of the oppressed nations, it raises them up against their oppressors, it ties up their struggle with the struggle of the proletariat in capitalist countries, it instructs the oppressed Chinese, Hindus or Arabs in the art of insurrection and it assumes full responsibility for this work in the face of civilised executioners. Here only does Bolshevism begin, that is, revolutionary Marxism in action. Everything that does not step over this boundary remains centrism”.
(What Next?).

But these quotations merely beg the question – are they relevant to the Argentine situation? Was the Falklands war remotely, or at all, comparable to what Trotsky is talking about? Essentially, no.

The issue: national liberation

Even in the shortest quote, the concrete issues involved – struggle for liberation against colonial armies, defence of the right of a backward state to expropriate foreign capital, etc. – is spelled out or referred to. Imperialism still operated through colonial empires, and the struggle for such empires and for their redivision was the substance of World War Two.

But Argentina was not threatened with double chains. The Argentine regime is a protector of foreign capital. They didn’t even expropriate British capital as a gambit in the war.

Any comparison of Argentina with Tunisia, Mexico, or China of the ’30s is preposterous. In terms of its level of development, role in its region, and place in the economic network of imperialism, it might be better compared with Italy or Japan of the 1930s – except that it is more developed than Japan was, and has a more or less fully-developed bourgeois social structure, which Japan and even Italy did not have.

The pro-Argentine comrades’ way with quotations seems to me to be repugnant to the spirit of Marxism and the opposite of the practice of Marxist analysis. It rules out specific analysis, substituting instead dogmatic recipes and formulas. They mechanically apply texts derived from past use of the Marxist method in concrete circumstances of the past. Those circumstances are not with us any more. They have evolved and developed and permuted to the present situation which is different – more or less radically different, but certainly different.

Even where changes are not very profound or major, we cannot just assume that the Marxist text dealing with some apparently similar situation is a sufficiently detailed and concrete depiction. That is to operate blindly dogmatically.

It is possible to ‘get by’ when the changes are not all that great, and the chosen texts not too markedly ill-matched to the concrete situation (but that means that whoever matches them has done at least some work on the concrete situation). On the basic ideas worked out by the geniuses of our movement, it is possible to ‘get by’ for a very long time indeed.

How to use quotations

Even the most miserable of ‘Trotskyist’ sects works from a stock that retains a tremendous potency and relevance. But to adopt the method of dogmatic text-worship is to cut the roots of Marxism and to make renewal and living development difficult and ultimately impossible.

Sooner or later it is no longer possible to ‘get by’. The texts become dogmas preventing us from relating to reality, acting like distorting spectacles.

The notion that what Trotsky wrote in a very different world (dominated by colonial imperialism, for example) about countries like China can provide us directly with answers to the Argentine war is ridiculous. The principles, methods and ways of looking at the world remain what they were when Trotsky wrote, but to conclude that the texts embodying their results when applied to working through a concrete problem can directly offer us guidelines now, the comrades would have to establish that similar or roughly similar conditions exist – that Argentina was faced with colonial invasion or something similar.

Since many comrades in fact admit that there was no real issue of Argentine national liberation served by the seizure of the Falklands, it is a culpable departure from the Marxist method to pretend to call Trotsky’s voice from the grave to tell us what he thinks we should do over the Falklands war, and to cite what he said about China’s resistance to the Japanese invaders as his answer.

It is sleight of hand, sand in the eyes, asking the relics to speak – but not Marxism.

Marxists should use – or try to use – the classic texts of our movement in a different way: as models of analysis, and as guides and checks in the practice of living Marxist analysis.

If you compare any of Lenin’s serious work with the texts of Stalinism, from the 20s to the 60s, you cannot fail to see the difference between Marxism and pseudo-Marxist scholasticism. The Stalinists quote the classics (as it suits them, of course) as themselves proof, themselves giving answers. Thus, for example, the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ was ‘proved’ true and Marxist by a few lines from an article by Lenin written in 1915.

Lenin’s writings are studded with quotations from Marx and Engels. He cites them to establish Marx’s and Engels’ views on a relevant issue at a given time. He then asks if the concrete reality has changed and evolved, and if so in what way, and how does it relate to other connected issues. He asks what modifications, additions or deletions to the views of Marx and Engels must be made in accordance with their method, criteria, principles, in the light of developments.

He thinks, works it through, reworks it, concretises the answers for his own time and conditions, on the basis of scientific analysis. (See ‘State and Revolution’ for example).

He frequently insisted against all dogmatists and quotation-mongers that “the truth is concrete”. Political development in a revolutionary Marxist spirit is possible only by an unrelenting struggle for concreteness, for science.

The classic texts here are our starting point, our models, our historic ‘memory’, our theoretical and political arsenal. We ourselves, however, must work out the political responses to our own problems and our own concrete reality. The books cannot think for us.

Quotation-mongering and “proof from texts” was, and in some cases still is, the method of our anti-Marxist opponents. It is the measure of the state of the Trotskyist movement that the same quotations on China, Brazil and so on have been almost universally cited as if they could tell us anything directly about Argentina.

The letter to Rivera: analysis

It is worth following through in detail a key text of Trotsky’s – his letter to Diego Rivera, a profound and brief text which applies the principles we all share to China in 1937.

What is the issue? “China is a semi-colonial country which Japan is transforming, under our very eyes, into a colonial country. Japan’s struggle is imperialist and reactionary. China’s struggle is emancipatory and progressive.” ‘Semi-colonial’ meant that until the 1930s China suffered imperialist interventions, it ceded territory to the big powers, it ceded ports, it gave them special privileges – and then in 1931 it was invaded by Japan.

And Argentina? Argentina is a regional ‘big power’, dominating Uruguay and Paraguay, vying for influence in Latin America with Brazil, skirmishing with Chile over disputed territory. Its national integrity has been undisputed for 100 years at least. It is subordinated to imperialism not through the Falklands but by the agency of its own ruling class. Until 1930, or even 1948, it was one of the world’s richer countries. It is a developed capitalist economy.

“Struggle for the . . . the national independence of China”
“Today he [Chiang Kai-shek] is forced despite himself, to struggle against Japan for the remainder of the national independence of China . . . ”

This was not a symbolic war in which an aspirant regional imperialism and agent of big-power imperialist penetration led a fight over an irrelevant issue – it was a real national liberation war, against national subjugation.

“The example of a strike”

The example of the strike has been scandalously misused by the IMG. The union exists apart from the hideous things its leaders may do – or even its members (racist strikes). We are for the union, despite everything. It is a class organisation. We criticise it fundamentally by way of fighting to transform it. Trotsky uses the analogy of the union to point to what is threatened and worth defending, irrespective of what Chiang Kai-shek may do: the freedom of the Chinese people from Japanese control.

The Argentine people were not struggling to throw out an invader, they were not threatened with subjugation.

“Chinese patriotism is legitimate and progressive”
“If Japan is an imperialist country and if China is the victim of imperialism, we favour China. Japanese patriotism is the hideous mask of world-wide robbery. Chinese patriotism is legitimate and progressive. To place the two on the same plane and to speak of ‘social-patriotism’ can be done only by those who have read nothing of Lenin . . . ”

Argentina is not the victim of colonial imperialism (which Trotsky is talking about). It never has been. In his World War One writings, for example, Lenin distinguished Argentina from the ‘semi-colonies’ and bracketed it with Portugal (which itself had a vast colonial empire) as an economic satellite of Britain though politically independent. (Since then Argentina has long ceased to be an economic satellite of Britain.)

The exploitation of the Argentine workers is in part conducted by foreign capital – in tandem with the Argentine bourgeoisie. What have the Falklands got to do with that? What did the war have to do with that?

Chinese patriotism was not primarily backward-looking, xenophobic, etc., but progressive. Why? Not because it had been entirely purged of those aspects, still less because those aspects could ever be progressive, but because it was the patriotism of a people rousing itself to modern political life, and rousing itself to struggle to throw out its conquerors. It was an expression of that struggle.

The attitude to the patriotism of the Chinese was determined by the real content of the struggle, which was a progressive struggle.

And our attitude to Argentine patriotism? We evaluate it as internationalists. We ask what cause it serves, what role it played, how it related to the struggles which have to be fought. We cannot answer these questions without an assessment of the issues in the war.

Argentine patriotism was as progressive as the cause it served – as progressive as the bourgeois military junta, on whose coat-tails the masses followed, tied by it. It was not progressive in the war. In relation to the Falkland Islanders it was chauvinist.

The sentence from Trotsky’s article ‘A Fresh Lesson’ usually cited on support for Mexico against Britain is preceded by this comment:

“We deem it not only the right but the duty of workers in these [backward colonial and semi-colonial countries] actively to participate in the ‘defence of the fatherland’ against imperialism, on condition, to be sure, that they preserve the complete independence of their class organisation and conduct a ruthless struggle against the poison of chauvinism.”

In the Chinese war of national liberation we would denounce as Chinese chauvinists any anti-imperialist militants – and especially any communist militants – who would treat any national, ethnic or religious minority the way Argentina wanted to treat the Falklanders.

We might have to say: the Argentine masses are chauvinist on the Falklanders, but that’s a detail – if it were a mere detail. It was not: control over the islands was the issue over which the rival ruling classes, guided by prestige and chauvinism, clashed.

In fact, the attempt to treat Argentine nationalism as pure anti-imperialism is nothing but wishful thinking as far as I can make out. The comrades do not present any arguments, but only assertions and assumptions. At best they derive the progressive character of Argentine nationalism from the reactionary character of British imperialism: but the conclusion does not follow. We do not always put a plus where our enemies put a minus.

It does not follow that because mass militant mobilisation even on the Falklands issue could have opened channels in Argentina blocked six years ago and (like the consequences of any wild adventure or gamble often do) created great dangers for the junta, that Argentine nationalism is progressive or that we should support it.

A movement is progressive by its goals and its own logic, not by its possible side-effects. If the nationalist upheaval opens opportunities for Argentine socialists, we should be glad of the outcome. We cannot derive our own assessment of nationalism from that hope.

. . . And Argentine nationalism?

Argentina suffered British and French intervention some 140 years ago. Modern Argentina, however, has essentially taken shape over the last 100 years. Argentina had no war of liberation. Its population is, to within one per cent, of European immigrant origin – most from immigration within the last 100 years. Its mass popular nationalism dates from the 1920s. This nationalism was, especially in its labour movement manifestations, shaped and consolidated by Peronism.

Peronism was not and is not fascism. But corporatism and fascism are its essential ideological sources.

Peron had been in diplomatic service in Italy at the end of the 1930s, and consciously copied fascism. Peronist nationalism is narrowly Argentine – directed against Chile and Brazil, for example. It has been anti-semitic: the murder gangs sponsored by the last Peronist government (1973-6) daubed walls with the slogan, ‘Kill a Jew a day’. (There are about half a million Jews in Argentina.)

The ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric of Peronism was a variant of the envious jingoism common to all fascist or fascist-coloured movements. It was hostile to the USA and Britain . . . and Brazil. In 1973 Peron called for a Spanish-speaking alliance against the English-speaking and Portuguese-speaking Americans.

The anti-imperialism of the Peronists is like the anti-bourgeois sentiment of the fascists – imprecise, lacking scientific content, lacking definite, rational goals or means of struggle. It was and is harnessed by the bourgeoisie. To be progressive, the anti-imperialist sentiment needs to be refined and organised into an independent working-class movement with rational goals which will really strike at imperialism.

The pro-Argentine comrades’ position amounts logically to this: we must follow any predatory junta in a (relatively) backward country when it clashes with an imperialist power – for the sake of the symbolism of the clash! But no, comrades! We need an independent working-class point of view.

Communist anti-imperialism gives us that. It is not derived from a spurious two-camp pattern imposed on the world. It is derived from a unified working class viewpoint.

Everywhere that the working class exists, revolutionary Marxists identify it as the protagonist. Where national oppression exists, we still look to the working class as the protagonist.

From that point of view we approach a situation like 1937 in China where a Chiang Kai-shek may be beginning to fight ‘our war’. We never abandon our own politics, which include the drive to replace the Chiang Kai Sheks – even during a life-and-death war like the Sino-Japanese.

In contrast, the pro-Argentine view would turn us into passive consumers of world politics. We must pick and choose within the options. We dare not refuse our support to one side, even in a miserable business like the invasion of the Falklands. We strap the distorting spectacles tightly on our eyes, and we see the world around us not in terms of facts, class rule, class interests and real interactions – instead just imperialist and non-imperialist nations.

Obviously the hierarchy of the capitalist world economy is not irrelevant. But it cannot transform oppression into liberation, predatory pro-imperialist juntas into anti-imperialist fighters, the concrete realities of the Junta’s petty land-grab into episodes of a supposed world liberation drama.

The two-camp spectacles are altogether too crude, too thick with layers of petty bourgeois politics, with the layers of previous accommodation by the post-war Trotskyist movement to various national liberation and Stalinist movements (what is called ‘Pabloism’). In the notion of treating Argentina as meaningfully anti-imperialist – and necessarily so, despite the issue it clashed with imperialism on! – a whole trend in post-war Trotskyism reached the outer limits of a recurrent swing away from class politics.

A necessary war?
“In a war between two imperialist countries, it is a question neither of democracy nor of national independence, but of the oppression of backward non-imperialist peoples. In such a war the two countries find themselves on the same historic plane. The revolutionaries in both armies are defeatists. But Japan and China are not on the same historic plane.”

Note well: Trotsky uses not abstract categories and labels, or static comparisons, but dynamic interactions as his criteria. It is possible for countries to be on the same historic plane (in relation to a concrete conflict or issue) without being identical. The idea that there is an absolute and stable division between imperialist and non-imperialist capitalisms is unhistorical and undialectical.

Trotsky did not get drunk on words and phrases, mistake images for concrete reality, or chase will-of-the-wisp ‘symbols’ into the misty realm of fantasy politics where a Galtieri is designated the banner-bearer of anti-imperialism without reference to concrete analysis.

Trotsky continues:

“The victory of Japan will signify the enslavement of China, the end of her economic and social development, and the terrible strengthening of Japanese imperialism. The victory of China will signify, on the contrary, the social revolution in Japan and the free development, that is to say, unhindered by external oppression, of the class struggle in China.”

This “terrible strengthening of Japan” would not be a matter of prestige, ‘authority’, or the figure it cut in the world. It would be strengthened by the plunder of China and the exploitation of hundreds of millions of Chinese – which was why Japanese victory would be the end of Chinese economic and social development.

What goal does Trotsky spell out for the Chinese war of liberation? “Free development . . . unhindered by external oppression.” And he speaks particularly of free development of the class struggle.

Concrete, precise, definable – not something derived from a different type of situation and imposed as a pattern on the Chinese events. The programme and attitude of the Marxists were grounded in the concrete situation, the real choices, and the consequent necessary development of the workers’ struggle in China. Chiang Kai Shek was to be ‘supported’ with gritted teeth because the war was necessary and at that point he headed it. This did not mean political support to Chiang Kai-shek – on the contrary.

In Argentina? Few comrades would venture the view that the Falklands war was necessary. They would say only that defeat of Britain by the Argentine junta’s army (not by the British working class) was necessary for its symbolic importance. The war was not necessary – but we should have supported Galtieri in the war because of the symbolic significance of it, once the junta had set it going. And that despite the fact that no-one on the left would have campaigned for the starting of the war (the invasion), and many condemn it!

Wherever the pro-Argentine stance comes from, it is not from Trotsky’s and other communists’ attitude during the wars of the Chinese and others against colonial imperialism. That’s for sure.

What does defencism mean?

Trotsky’s attitude was:

“But can Chiang Kai-shek assure the victory? I do not believe so. It is he, however, who began the war and who today directs it. To be able to replace him it is necessary to gain decisive influence among the proletariat and in the army, and to do that it is necessary not to remain suspended in the air but to place oneself in the midst of the struggle. We must win influence and prestige in the military struggle against the foreign invasion and in the political struggle against the weaknesses, the deficiencies, and the internal betrayal. At a certain point, which we cannot fix in advance, this political opposition can and must be transformed into armed conflict, since the civil war, like war generally, is nothing more than the continuation of the political struggle.”

If Trotsky’s arguments for supporting China were relevant to Argentina, then so also should have been this approach. Pro-Argentine comrades should have focused their criticism of Galtieri on his weakness and insufficient ruthlessness in fighting for the islands.

The Peronists of course did that, so apparently, did the PST (Socialist Workers Party, Morenist). But most pro-Argentine comrades shy away from this conclusion. Is it because they are half-aware of the falseness of treating Galtieri’s war as a national liberation struggle?

Defencism and political independence

Further: for Trotsky defencism did not exclude working for civil war in nationalist China. On the contrary, the fight for national liberation demanded it – and anyway working class politics did.

Yet the WSL minority write:

“Defeatism means the defeat of your own ruling class by the working class. It means ‘the main enemy is at home’. It means ‘British workers and soldiers turn your guns on your own officers and ruling class’, because our own ruling class is an imperialist ruling class. That is a basic Marxist position that we hold in all wars at any time which are being waged by our own ruling crass. The question is what position do we hold for the other side in the war, in this case Argentina? If we hold a revolutionary defeatist position for the Argentine working class, then we are saying, ‘Both working classes defeat your own ruling class; the outcome of the war is irrelevant; a victory for one side would not be more progressive than the other’.”

That’s exactly what we are saying.

But you don’t have to be a defeatist to say ‘Both working classes defeat your own ruling class’. That is what Trotsky said in 1937 – even while standing with Chiang Kai-shek against Japan. Not to say it is to abandon the ground of working class politics (‘for the duration’).

Pursuing the class struggle . . .

In China in 1937 it was a real struggle for liberation against imperialism. Chinese ‘patriotism’ flowed from our politics. We could therefore have an independent view on the matter from that of the Chinese nationalists.

We provisionally and conditionally arrived at the proposal of a national liberation bloc with them on the basis of our independent politics, which were never abandoned or shelved, never in any circumstances and not to the slightest degree.

On the Falklands, the pro-Argentine comrades have passively adopted someone else’s viewpoint. They have proceeded not by analysing the concrete issues, but by fitting the war into a super-abstract image of the world as two camps, imperialist and non-imperialist capitalist states being separated by an unbridgeable chasm.

To fight in a war of liberation like the Chinese is not to abandon our politics – on the contrary, it is the only way we can maintain our class viewpoint as a living political force. By participating we serve, promote and develop our politics. We serve our politics by following where the logic of the class struggle and the real struggle against oppression and exploitation directs us.

“We were the first to propose [a military bloc of the CP with the KMT]. We demanded, however, that the CP maintain its entire political and organisational independence, that is, that during the civil war against the internal agents of imperialism [Chiang Kai-shek led one side against the regional warlords of Northern China], as in the national war against foreign imperialism, the working class, while remaining in the front lines of the military struggle, prepare the political overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We hold the same policies in the present [anti-Japanese] war. We have not changed our attitude one iota, The Oehlerites and the Eiffelites, on the other hand, have not understood a single bit of our policies, neither those of 1925-7, nor those of today.”

Likewise in 1982 the inverted Oehlerites and Eiffelites of the right fail to understand. In China there was an anti-imperialist war – defined as such by an independent Trotskyist assessment of the issues. The Oehlerites refused to support it because they reckoned that would mean identifying politically with Chiang Kai Shek. Over the Falklands, today’s ‘Oehlerites of the right’ supported the war as anti-imperialist on the basis of a general, vague identification with Argentina as ‘an oppressed country’ – and reckoned, therefore, that it was their anti-imperialist duty to forget about an independent judgement on the issue of the islands.

Either there is or there isn’t a real issue of national liberation. If there is, then we have our own criteria, and a vast range of political independence in relation to a Chiang Kai-shek (or a Galtieri). If there is not, and if we side with Galtieri for the symbolic anti-imperialist significance of his war, then for all the concrete issues we have to accept (for the time being) someone else’s viewpoint.

If we go begging to the table of the Argentine junta for symbols, then we must take what we get – take things as they define them, rally to the issues they raise (which ‘in themselves’ we may not even accept). We have to dance to their tune, on their terrain.

For the Trotskyists in China, the starting point was: this is our war. They started from the issues. In contrast, a position on the Falklands war which starts from a vague, symbolic ‘anti-imperialist’ identification with Argentina can only proceed by shelving independent judgement on the issue of Argentina’s claim to the islands and adopting someone else’s judgment instead.

This is the method pursued by Trotsky’s epigones for 30 and more years. It is not Marxism. It is not building in the class struggle.

It is instead an utterly artificial approach: the un-concrete, un-Marxist construction of a scenario, a world-picture, in which comrades ascribe an anti-imperialist role (that it isn’t playing) to the pro-imperialist and sub-imperialist ruling class of the comparatively developed capitalist state of Argentina.

Facing reality . . . or reading off scenarios

The scenario approach comes from a vision of two great camps, imperialist and non-imperialist. We have argued that this is a falsely static and undialectical view of capitalism. It seems to me that the comrades are borrowing a pattern from the view of the world as divided between the Stalinist states and capitalism.

Now between the USSR and imperialism there is a difference of class character. For imperialism and ‘non-imperialism’, both ‘camps’ are capitalist.

The vision is therefore false. But the method of taking sides on issues automatically with the ‘progressive’ camp is radically false even for the USSR.

A model of how to judge from an independent proletarian standpoint even those states (China in the ’30s, the USSR) that we may have good and imperative reason to support, is given in a discussion by Trotsky with a Chinese comrade.

“Trotsky: . . . The slogan ‘for revolutionary unity with the Soviet Union, with the proletarians of the whole world’ should rather be, ‘Unity with the proletariat of the whole world. and for an alliance with the Soviet Union on the basis of a concrete programme in the interests of the liberation of China.’ The Soviet Union is now the bureaucracy – no blind confidence in the Soviet Union!
Li Fu-jen: If the Nanking [Chiang Kai Shek] government should enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union, and the alliance should be of such a nature as to harm China and benefit only the Soviet Union, what should our attitude be towards it?
Trotsky: A military alliance against Japan would be in any case preferable for China, even with the bureaucracy as it is. But then we must say that we demand that the Soviet Union deliver munitions, arms for the workers and peasants; special committees must be created in Shanghai, in workers’ centres; the treaty must be elaborated with the participation not only with the KMT but also with the worker and peasant organisations.
We ask for an open proclamation from the Soviet bureaucracy that at the end of the war no part of China would be occupied without the consent of the Chinese people, etc.
Li Fu-jen: Do you then think that the Soviet Union could be capable of conducting an imperialistic policy?
Trotsky: If it is capable of organising frame-ups, killing the revolutionaries, it is capable of all possible crimes.”
(Trotsky on China, p. 562-3, emphasis added).

Remarkable dialogue! Carefully, precisely and with the brutal honesty we need in order to be revolutionaries able to grasp and change reality, Trotsky sizes up the allies he is supporting (and he supported the USSR against imperialism unconditionally).

Would Trotsky be capable of forgetting about the concrete issues like the Falklands, or of consoling himself with the idea that Argentina was non-imperialist and therefore the junta could not possibly conduct an ‘imperialistic’ policy?

No, he would not. He did not accept the Chiang Kai-shek clique or the Stalin bureaucracy for their symbolic value. He had concrete class reasons for allying with them. Those set the limits of the alliance. There was no ideological or political subordination. He never ceased to look at them in all their details with the eyes of a mortally hostile opponent. He never let the dark shadows of their imperialist opponents obscure the hideous anti working class features of Chiang Kai Shek or Stalin.

The truth – no matter how bitter

Trotsky could never have fallen into the method which allowed comrades to reach pro-Argentine conclusions on the Falklands.

This method was to take the elements in the situation (war, working class chauvinism in Argentina expressed in Peronist ‘anti-imperialist’ terms, etc.) and rearrange them into a superoptimistic scenario culminating in revolutionary working class victory.

The chauvinist mobilisation on the political coat-tails of the bourgeoisie became transformed – in some people’s heads – into a mobilisation against the system.

Everything ‘favourable’ to the scenario was highlighted, the rest faded out. The most blatant example was when the USFI press reprinted a speech by the junta’s foreign minister, Costa Mendez, as anti-imperialist good coin. More widely, much was made of a jingo Argentine demonstration where the slogan was chanted, ‘Malvinas Yes, Galtieri No’. Faded out was the other part of the same chant – according to the Economist – ‘The Malvinas are Argentina’s, the people are Peron’s’. And Peron’s legacy was what Galtieri was trying to appropriate, he was attempting to answer the call of the Peronist leaders for a new caudillo.

The scenario was constructed; then, in deference to the great revolutionary prospects, assessment of the war was read backwards from the scenario. The sordid details of Galtieri’s sally were transmuted by the assurance that it was only the first stage of a process due to culminate in the most militant anti-imperialist struggle.

This has been the method of ‘Pabloism’ (a bad term, but a common one) for 30 years. It is not Marxism. It is even below the level of the serious bourgeois commentators. It breaks with what Trotsky defined as a cardinal rule of the Fourth International: “To face reality squarely . . . to call things by their right names, to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be.”

In the final analysis, ‘scenario’ politics is fantasy politics, and fantasy politics is passive politics. Instead of using Marxist realism as a preparation for a revolutionary changing of the world, it means “changing the world” in our heads by way of wishful thinking.

The logic of the class struggle

It means failing to follow the cardinal injunction of Marxism, expressed by Trotsky in the Transitional Programme thus: ‘To be guided by the logic of the class struggle.’

The ‘logic of the class struggle’ includes for us the logic of genuine liberation movements. These can be complementary to, and not counterposed to, the class struggle of the working class internationally and in the oppressed country. But if there is no issue of liberation struggle actually involved in the war, then it becomes possible to take sides only outside of the logic of the class struggle.

In the letter to Rivera Trotsky describes the sectarians as following closely behind and ‘correcting’ him, adding a moustache where he draws a woman’s face and an egg where he draws a cock and so on. He did not foresee that 45 years later most of those calling themselves Trotskyists would use the art of collage to cut out the picture he drew of China in 1937 and to paste it over the figure of Argentina in 1982 – an Argentina that has more in common with the Japan of 1937 than with the China of that time.

* The Bey [Regent] of Tunis was the local ruler within the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Tunisia from 1574 to 1881. In 1881 France seized Tunisia and made it (until 1956) a ‘protectorate’. The Bey retained a nominal position, but control was in the hands of French officials.

The immediate background to Trotsky’s comment cited above was a protest in Tunis organised by the middle-class Neo-Destour (New Constitutional) party and the trade unions. French police opened fire, and killed or wounded 174 people.

The Bey had no part in this nationalist protest. Trotsky’s point was that even under the leadership of the Bey and, in fact, later, in 1942-3, Munsif Bey did flirt with Neo-Destour, socialists should support the fight for national independence for Tunisia.

Workers Socialist Review Index (1981-84)

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