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New International, September 1948


Philip Coben

Trotskyist Primer


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 7, September 1948, pp. 221–222.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Rise and Fall of the Comintern (From the First to the Fourth International)
by K. Tilak
Spark Syndicate, Bombay 1947, 157 pp., $1.25.

While it is a commonplace that the history of the Communist International has still to be written (and Tilak’s book does not pretend to be any such definitive history), even outline sketches like Tilak’s are none too plentiful.

Published by the Indian Trotskyists, Rise and Fall of the Comintern obviously does not purport to be more than an outline sketch, briefly summarizing the analyses worked out by Trotsky and the Trotskyist movement of the critical periods and stages of Comintern degeneration.

In reality – like C.L.R. James’ World Revolution – its subject and center of interest is not the rise and fall of the Comintern but only the latter, the Stalinist counter-revolution. After eight pages on the First and Second Internationals, only seven are devoted to the founding and first four congresses of the CI.

Then, with Chapter 3 on The Decline of the Comintern, the main thread of the book begins. The following chapters go through: the German defeat of 1923; the Anglo-Russian Committee of 1925–27; the tragedy of the Chinese revolution; the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the beginnings of Trotsky’s Left Opposition; the dispute over industrialization and the Five Year Plan; the “Third Period” of ultra-leftism and dual-unionism; the Popular Front and the Spanish civil war; and the Second World War period from the Hitler-Stalin Pact to the dissolution of the Comintern. Two further chapters – one on the degeneration of the Russian state and a final one on the Fourth International – round off the work. In actuality, Tilak attempts no more than would be proposed for a mimeographed educational outline; and this task it performs usefully. It is a handbook that every comrade should own.

The point of view from which it is written can best be described as “the Trotskyism of the 1930s.” Even the interesting re-evaluations later made by Trotsky himself on a number of points are not touched upon: e.g., his reinterpretation of the significance of Stalin’s struggle against the Bukharin right wing, his re-evaluation of the theory of one-party dictatorship, and – most interesting – his several germinal remarks in his article USSR in War of 1939. Not only is the presentation scrupulously “orthodox,” it scarcely even gives a hint that any fresh thinking on new problems has taken place since the founding congress of the FI in 1938.

It is this approach which also perhaps accounts for a typical lack in the section on the Spanish revolution and civil war against Franco. It has been my own observation that one of the most fruitful political discussions in the movement – the discussion on defensism or defeatism in Spain at that time – is far from familiar to many comrades at the present day.

Tilak does not even pose the problem of the correct revolutionary Marxist position on that historic episode: why did Trotsky and the Trotskyist movement take the position of material and military support to the Loyalist government in the fight against Franco fascism, given the bourgeois-imperialist character of that government? Trotsky’s brilliant discussions of this problem in those days shattered some crudely “orthodox” concepts (like: the character of the state automatically determines the character of the war), but this political education is completely absent in Tilak. On the other hand, he does convey a useful precis of the class forces at work and a condensed criticism of the policies of the Stalinists, Anarchists, Socialists and POUM.

The chapter on the nature of the Russian state repeats the “degenerated workers’ state” line just as if nothing; has happened since Trotsky wrote The Revolution Betrayed. We are told that the Kremlin bureaucracy defends statified property and that this is its “progressive aspect”:

“The progressive aspect of its work merits the support of the international proletariat, which should not, however, be blind to its reactionary general role. Thus the rule of the bureaucracy reflects in a distorted form the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Orthodox dogma as it is, few even of the orthodox Fourth Internationalists still can thus screw their courage to the point of actually writing in so many words that Stalin’s prison-state is still a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Only in the last few pages, in fact, is there any political evidence that the author is writing in the year 1947. In the final section headed The Future, there is fortunately none of the Cannon-Germain-Pierre Frank bombastic rhetoric about the world-revolution-around-the-corner. Tilak prefers to remind us of a passage written by Trotsky in 1938:

“Dilettantes, charlatans or blockheads incapable of probing into the dialectic of historic ebbs and flows have more than once brought in their verdict: ‘The ideas of the Bolshevik-Leninists may, perhaps, be correct but they are incapable of building a mass organization.’ As if a mass organization can be built under any and all conditions! As if a revolutionary program does not render it obligatory for us to remain in the minority and swim against the stream in an epoch of reaction! That revolutionist is worthless who uses his own impatience as a measuring rod for the tempo of an epoch. Never before has the path of the world revolutionary movement been blocked with such monstrous obstacles as it is today on the eve of a new epoch of greatest revolutionary convulsion.”

And Tilak then poses the historic choices before society:

“On the answer to this question hangs the fate of humanity. We recollect that Marx, while considering socialism to be historically inevitable as the next stage in the evolution of human society, at the same time went on to add that there was another alternative – namely, a return to barbarism. It must be admitted that never did this dread alternative assume before a reality as it has done today.”

And Tilak properly adds: “But we, who have faith in the masses and their capacity to achieve, reject the perspective of decline and defeat,” and he expresses confidence in the leadership of the Fourth International. But the Fourth International leadership is very much like Tilak’s book: it is cognizant of the phenomenal devolution of Stalinism hut is completely incapable of drawing from it the lessons for today. However, the book (not the leadership) can still he a useful ABC reader for beginners.

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