Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, Against the Stream - A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain, 1924-1938, Socialist Platform, London, 1986, pp302, £5.95.

This review appeared in the Winter 1986-87 edition of the Bulletin of Marxist Studies.

A number of books have appeared which purport to present a history of Trotskyism in Britain, before, during and immediately after the Second World War. All, however, fall well short of achieving this task. Riddled with errors, misunderstandings and even falsehoods, which would take a book to correct, fundamentally none of these ‘histories’ approach the question with a Marxist method. Rather than analyse the complex social processes which were unfolding in society at the time, and with the enormous advantage of subsequent experience appraise, documents in hand, the efforts of various trends to grapple with the problems raised, instead, under the guise of ‘balance’, personal reminiscences forty years after the events are elevated to the same level as the major programatic statements of the time and a mass of secondary details obscure the fundamental lines of thought. The result is a lightweight digest of dates arid personalities, a superficial sketch of events … but not a history of British Marxism …

There are a myriad sects that presently infest the fringes of the labour movement which occasionally Marxism has to combat politically in order to clarify the issues before the working class. The pioneers of British Trotskyism had also to deal with the distortions and corruption of the Marxist method perpetrated by the precursors of these sects.

One of the major debates immediately after the Second World War was: would there be any possibility of a boom and revival of capitalism? The forerunners of today’s sects, Cannon, Mandel, Pablo, Healy and Co, based themselves then on a dogmatic and robotic regurgitation of Trotsky’s words outlined in the 1930s that capitalism was in its ‘death agony’ and the coming war, predicted correctly by Trotsky, would provoke revolution arid economic crisis. And they categorically stated, even as late as 1947, that capitalism could not reach the level of production attained pre-war and that the world economy would remain in ‘stagnation and slump’.

The British Marxists, drawing on the method of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky rather than on unthinking recitation of old quotations from the Marxist masters, disputed this ‘analysis’ and were the first to predict that world capitalism was entering a period of ‘revival and boom’ after 1945. Reality had to kick the precursors of today’s sects in the face before they recognised this new period.

They then swung round 180 degrees and argued that capitalism could permanently solve its contradictions, at least in the advanced industrial world, through Keynesian state spending, permanent arms expenditure or exploitation of the colonial world.

The Friends of George Edwards

Our columns are open to these comrades if they should care to substantiate their allegations of the “errors, misunderstandings and even falsehoods, with which these books are apparently riddled”.

Updated by ETOL: 5.7.2003