Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History: Volume 4, No. 4, South Africa: Letters


Max Shachtman and the Bolivian Revolution

Dear Comrades

Your latest issue (Vol. 4, no. 3, Summer 1992), devoted to the Bolivian events of 1952, reprints Trotskyism in Bolivia’ by Juan Rey-Juan Robles from the December 1947 New International, journal of the Shachtman tendency in the United States.

In the 1950s I was a member of Shachtman’s Workers Party-International Socialist League (WP-ISL). Sam Ryan (Roth), leader, along with Dennis Vern, of the Vern-Ryan tendency which came over to the Shachtman tendency in Los Angeles from the SWP, had become very interested in the conduct of the Bolivian Trotskyists in 1952. He had written several pieces for the SWP Internal Bulletin on the subject, and was quite avid, having gotten someone fluent in Spanish to translate everything he could find on the Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR – Revolutionary Workers Party).

The Northern California-based left opposition in the ISL, of which I was a part, was quite impressed by Ryan’s arguments that the POR had missed a revolutionary situation in Bolivia in 1952. When in 1957 Shachtman came out for liquidating the ISL into the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation, we made contact with the Vern-Ryan group, hoping that they also opposed Shachtman’s liquidationist course. On the contrary. They told us that they had joined the ISL because they thought it was a Social Democratic organisation, and they were very, very happy to be joining a much bigger one (actually the SP-SDF was only slightly bigger than the ISL, but Shachtman was pushing the myth that it was much larger). So that ended our contact with Vern-Ryan.

We were impressed by what Ryan wrote on Bolivia, but it turned out that this line was at some variance with the tendency’s actual political appetites. The literary posture of a group may not correspond with its main direction of political motion. This point has been proved to me over the years again and again, as for example with the Healy tendency in the 1950s, or with the attempt by Al Richardson’s Revolutionary Communist League (Chartists ) in 1972 to make a distinction between the Spartacist League US and the ‘different and superior’ journal Workers Action in California (which was in fact published by the Spartacist League US). This is why we have reserved judgement on the Haston-Grant majority of the British Revolutionary Communist Party of the 1940s. Literary postures, when seen from a great distance, may not be what they appear, when experienced on the ground.

The Shachtman WP-ICL had a journalistic collaborator, apparently a Polish emigré probably resident in Chile, who wrote on Latin American affairs under the name Juan Rey or Juan Robles. When writing on East Europe he used the name Andrzej Rudzienski, which might have been his real name.

In May 1952 ‘Juan Rey’ raised the call for a workers’ government in Bolivia, criticising the FOR, official section of the Fourth International, for tailing the bourgeois nationalist Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR   Revolutionary National Movement):

‘At this moment Bolivia is the most revolutionary country in South America, and it could precipitate the social revolution. But clear revolutionary consciousness is lacking. The FOR (‘Trotskyists’) will not issue the watchword “All power to the workers’ unions”, because it does not want to break with the nationalists. If the workers’ unions do not present an ultimatum to the government, they will miss the revolutionary situation, and they will then be defeated. Only a workers’ government, representing the whole working class, including the nationalists, Stalinists and Trotskyists, could realise the bourgeois-democratic postulates of the revolution, that is, agrarian reform and the economic liberation of the country. But that would be a Socialist revolution.’ (Crisis Lies Ahead in Bolivian Revolution as Armed Workers Face Nationalist “Allies”, Labor Action, 19 May 1952)

This was following the April 1952 destruction of the army at the hands of the pro-MNR national police, joined by armed workers, which then led to the disappearance of the national police, leaving a vacuum ripe for dual power and the seizure of state power, at least on the Altiplano, by the organised Bolivian working class. A very equivocal formation called the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB – Bolivian Workers Central Organisation) did come to exercise considerable but irresolute authority, while American imperialism hastened to reconstitute an officer corps. The tin mines were nationalised, and the Patiño family left for their Paris retreat.

The situation predictably decomposed, facilitated by the Stalinists in the COB and Juan Lechin, an MNR politician popular with the miners. The situation then slid backwards over several years into something resembling the old order.

Juan Rey’s call, in the pages of Labor Action, for authentic workers’ soviet power in Bolivia, was hotly disputed by the journal’s editor, Hal Draper, on the bureaucratic collectivist premise that at no time and under no circumstances should a Stalinist party be willingly allowed to participate in a major public event. In an introduction to Juan Rey’s article, Draper opined:

‘Information on the course of events in Bolivia and on the exact character of the political movements in that country is extremely limited in New York. Yet we feel constrained to point out that if the Bolivian Stalinist movement is similar to its counterparts in other lands, it is very doubtful whether it would be either possible or desirable for the left wing workers there to form a government in affiance with the Stalinists.’

Draper’s position was the first major issue which impelled me into opposition to the ISL leadership. The Stalinists were not some alien conquering force – they stood at the head of sectors of the working class as union leaders. If we couldn’t engage in political struggle with Stalinists in a situation where they depended on a proletarian base, and under conditions approximating to dual power, when could we? I thought Draper’s line tended to treat the Stalinists as if their essential social quality was not based on the configuration of class forces, but some kind of black magic.


James Robertson
International Communist League


Bolivian Problems

Dear Editor

Though I translated the text A Revolution Betrayed by José Villa in Revolutionary History, Vol. 4, no. 3, on the Bolivian events of 1952, I would not wish any readers to think that I share its views in any way and therefore make a few points outlining my objections.

The framework for my criticism becomes evident in the opening sentence of the text, inasmuch as it assumes that the October 1917 events in Russia would be a model with which to compare those in Bolivia; a society of scanty industrial development, a minuscule bourgeoisie, and a peasantry which ‘lived on the margins of the national economy ... in ... the form of serfdom’ (p. 82). Not only are such comparisons of limited utility but, to assume that a model already exists by which to re-run or judge revolutions, is not Marxist, but a form of idealist thought: the idea precedes the deed.

The author wishes to discredit his opponents, particularly Lora, by piling selective quote on selective quote. It is illustrative that in this task he felt the need to omit the word ‘allegedly’ (p. 59) which I insisted should be replaced in the interests of historical accuracy.

Nobody would claim that the POR did not make mistakes, and Lora himself is quoted admitting to some. My own view is that, rather than comparing Bolivia to other historically specific situations in other societies, one should try to study what occurred during those years, and ask whether any other result could have been attained. The POR could expect no help from the leadership of the Fourth International, as is clear from reading the documents, and only a few generalities were to be found in the Comintern texts. In both the prewar and postwar periods, the FOR was on its own, and it had to develop its own policies from its own resources. There was no ‘cookbook’ of recipes to study, and this should be borne in mind. Nobody has written more on the ‘Anti-Imperialist Front’ than Lora, and it is all based on political experience. It gets great criticism, but all his critics seem to think that, in some abstract way, there is a clearly ‘correct path’ in existence. Lora’s materials are based on experience, and it is my view that a critical study of them will be more fruitful than studying his many detractors.

The author drags in the POUM as part of his analogy, claiming that the FI ‘was founded in the struggle against [it]’ (p. 64). But, if the POUM made a series of errors in 1936–37, which few would doubt, the record of the International Secretariat of Trotsky’s movement in Spain in setting up a separate entity, was hardly a success story (cf. Di Bartolomeo’s article in Revolutionary History, Vol. 4, nos. 1/2). And, of course, the POUM was invited to the FI’s founding conference – surely a sign of some confidence in it?

The real substance of the author’s criticism is his view of the nature of the MNR. ‘The MNR was clearly a bourgeois party’, he states (p. 69), and he keeps repeating this assertion without satisfactory proof. Moralising about the past employment or social background of Victor Paz is meaningless. We could disqualify many of the Bolshevik leaders in the same way. Neither are the Fascistic tendencies in the MNR, nor its pro-Axis stance in the Second World War, valid points. Such features have been common in nationalist movements in backward countries, and arguments like these were used by Stalinism in order to line up Latin American labour movements behind Anglo-US imperialism in the Second World War.

Lora was correct to characterise the MNR as petit-bourgeois, and to those whose judgements on Latin American societies begin from historical reality and not schemas, its kinship with ‘Aprismo’ is obvious and well documented. As for APRA, we have Trotsky’s opinions. In January 1939 he likened it to ‘the Russian populists (SRs) and the Chinese Kuomintang’ (Ignorance is not a Revolutionary Instrument, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1938–39, p. 184). In November 1938 he said:

‘The Kuomintang in China, the PRM in Mexico and APRA in Peru are very similar organisations. It is the People’s Front in the form of a party. Of course the People’s Front in Latin America does not have so reactionary a character as in France and Spain. It is two-sided. It can have a reactionary attitude insofar as it is directed against the workers; it can have an aggressive attitude insofar as it is directed against imperialism.’ (Latin American Problems, Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement 1934–40, p. 785)

He goes on to say that whilst ‘our organisation’ does not participate in APRA and the like, ‘it must maintain absolute freedom of action and criticism’ (op. cit., p. 785), and while ‘we cannot enter such a party ... we can create a nucleus within it in order to win the workers and separate them from the bourgeoisie’ (op. cit., p. 794).

Seeing the MNR as ‘clearly a bourgeois party’, the author castigates the FOR for having ‘struggled to get more workers into [it]’ as, for him, the role of the Trotskyists should have been one of having ‘struggled for them to leave it’ (p. 74). Such a policy would have put the FOR on the margins of Bolivian politics as sectarian propagandists.

Here in Britain the Tory and Liberal parties are ‘clearly’ bourgeois, and nobody would consider intervening in them as a way of reaching workers that these parties might attract – but the Labour Party is something else. It, too, is a bourgeois party, but it differs from the others inasmuch as it rests upon the working class and its organisations. In this area we do not instruct workers within to leave, but we try to find a way whereby they would themselves see the necessity of fighting their inadequate leaders and adopting Marxist policies.

There is surely an analogy here with the MNR in the early 1950s. It is pedantry to test out parties resting on the masses for the right pedigree – it is enough for Marxists that such parties encompass the masses who believe them to be revolutionary or Socialist. Therefore it was correct for the FOR to try to strengthen the MNIR left, and to kick out the right. It was correct for the FOR to try to move towards a workers’ and peasants’ government. The point is that in such actions one must not mix up the banners. The correctness or otherwise of such activity is determined by the analysis and perspective that it is based upon. If correct, success may be attained, if not, then enormous mistakes will be made.

Linked to the previous argument is the claim that ‘the petit-bourgeoisie cannot form a government or wield state power.’ (p. 62). This claim, which is an essential component of the author’s arguments against the FOR is, once again, merely an assertion. Historical events disprove it. Not only was Fascism in its many variants a petit-bourgeois movement which formed governments, it also wielded state power very effectively. Bonapartism, from Pilsudski to Peron, as well as the MFA government in Portugal, to mention only a few, arises from such elements when the bourgeoisie and the proletariat show their incapacity to take their destiny in their own hands. The usual pattern is that, in an effort to drag their country out of its backwardness and subordination to imperialism, a secret society of middle-ranking officers, often from the lower classes, recognises that incapacity and substitutes itself.

In the ex-colonies we have seen any number of petit-bourgeois ‘anti-imperialist’, ‘Socialist’ regimes – as recently with Sandinista Nicaragua and Khomeini’s Iran. Although some Trotskyists saw them as worthy of workers’ state status, it could in no way be said, in opposition to that view, that the bourgeoisie was in power. What led misguided Trotskyists and other leftists to characterise such regimes as proletarian was the fact that the bourgeoisie was clearly not in power. When such regimes demobilise the masses, after some differentiation and purging within their leaderships, they usually make an accommodation with imperialism. That occurred with the MNR in Bolivia. But one must never confuse the end of a historical process with its beginning.

I had other objections to the text but, after the cuts in length which it underwent, my comments would be obscure, so I will leave it here. I hope a fruitful discussion will result.

Mike Jones


Spanish Republicans and the French Military

Dear Comrades

Readers of the double issue of Revolutionary History on the Spanish Civil War (Vol. 4, nos. l/2) maybe interested in the following small postscript.

It is common knowledge that the soldiers of the defeated anti-Fascist forces who escaped over the border to Spain in 1939 were disarmed by the French authorities, and interned in what were no better than concentration camps. We are seldom told what happened to them subsequently. We know that many of them found their way into the resistance movements when France was occupied. I want to tell readers of Revolutionary History what happened to some others.

Faced with the prospect of indefinite internment and possible deportation back to Spain, they were offered the alternative of joining the French Foreign Legion. Many opted for this ‘lesser evil’. When the Germans invaded Norway, a battalion of the French Foreign Legion, which included a number of these Republican Spaniards, was part of the Anglo-French Expeditionary Force that was defeated at Narvik and evacuated back to Britain. The reactionary French Military Mission in Britain, anxious to rid themselves of what they saw as a ‘politically unreliably’ nucleus in their army, and, no doubt as a gesture of goodwill to the Franco government, decided to separate the Republican Spaniards from the rest of their army, and send them back to Franco Spain. This must have had the compliance of the British Churchill government, as a boat was made ready at Avonmouth docks, and it is unlikely that this could have been arranged without the cooperation of the British authorities.

When marched to the dockside, the Spanish Republican soldiers mutinied and refused to board. The French Military Mission in London reacted by ordering that one in every three of the mutineers be shot. At this stage, the British authorities intervened, and the French officers were relieved of their command.

Eventually, the mutineers were incorporated into the British army as No. 1 (Spanish) Company of the Pioneer Corps under the command of British officers and NCOs. They fought in France and Belgium in 1944. I myself fought in this corps at the time in the same theatre of operations, and heard about this unit of Spanish Republicans. I met some of these soldiers, and it was from them that I heard the story of the mutiny.

I have only just read a corroboration of this episode, including the threat to shoot one in three of the mutineers, in Major E.H. Rhodes-Wood’s semi-official War History of the Royal Pioneer Corps (Gale and Polden, 1960, p. 76).

Another confirmation – if one were needed – of the spurious nature of the claim that the Allies, including the ‘Free French’ (of which the French Military Mission became part) were fighting Fascism!


Harry Ratner

Marxism and the Theory of the Workers’ State

Dear Editor

Nothing can be clearer today than the failure of the Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist sects of every hue and description adequately either to foresee or to understand the tempestuous course of capitalist development in the post-Second World War years, still less the continuing collapse of ‘actually existing Socialism’ first in the buffer zone of Eastern and Central Europe, and more latterly in the heartland of the Soviet Union itself. Al Richardson’s review of Walter Daum’s The Life and Death of Stalinism (Revolutionary History, Vol. 3, no. 4) is quite right to direct our attention to this matter. I wonder, nonetheless, whether he goes far enough.

As I understand Richardson’s case, the very notion of a ‘workers’ state’ is a kind of dialectical absurdity. If the state truly appertained to ‘the workers’, then it could not properly be a state. If a state, it could in no meaningful sense ‘belong’ to the workers. To the best of my knowledge, the notion of a ‘workers’ state’ cannot be found in Marx. Over three-quarters of a century this notion has introduced unparalleled confusion into the international workers’ movement. Like a rabid dog, it ought to be put down. We should hear no more of it, ever again.

State capitalism is a dialectical absurdity of a similar order. If a command economy state truly owns and plans everything, then there can be no commodities, and in the absence of commodities, no capitalism. Conversely, if capitalism exists, state ownership of everything, and production according to a single global plan, is impossible. State capitalism, seeking to explain everything, ends up, as Richardson rightly points out, by explaining nothing at all.

In his perceptive Conway Hall lecture, After the Death of Stalinism, Is There a Future for Trotskyism?, published in New Interventions, Vol. 2, no. 4, Richardson takes the argument still further. If ‘Marxism is a science’, then it must ‘have some power of prediction’. Yet in regard to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Trotskyism has manifested ‘no power of prediction whatever’. The Eastern European system is in collapse. Yet these revolutions have nowhere been led by Marxist parties, still less by sections of the Fourth International. There have been no soviets established. Contrary to all expectations, the working class has played no ‘leading role’. The most heartfelt desire of the masses would seem to be not democratic Socialism and a classless society, but a mad rush to capitalism of the most crude and vulgar kind. To add to the confusion, nationalism is rampant everywhere. Yet nowhere can be found a national bourgeoisie.

Furthermore, the perspective outlined in Trotsky’s Transitional Programme of 1938, that the Second World War would be followed by a massive slump, ‘an epoch of wars and revolutions’ which would ‘pose the question of power’ has proved entirely misplaced. The theory of Permanent Revolution postulated that colonial independence could only be attained under the leadership of the working class, and that industrialisation could not develop in the underdeveloped world under capitalism, but only by the coming to power of the working class. The former colonies are now all independent. Capitalism thrives, not least in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil and elsewhere. The Permanent Revolution, the very spine of all Trotsky’s revolutionary theory, would seem to be broken beyond all hope of repair. So what went wrong?

Richardson makes one highly illuminating suggestion, upon which I would like to elaborate. Further, I would like to add one suggestion of my own. Tsarist Russia, Richardson quite rightly points out, was more of an Asiatic Despotism than a capitalist imperialism. State ownership was the predominant mode both before and after the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. But is state ownership necessarily workers’ ownership? Surely not. I have set out the Marxian argument for this view at some length in my State Ownership, Workers’ Control and Socialism (Leeds and Nottingham, 1973, reprinted in New Interventions, Vol. 3, no. 1). Richardson, who is very interested in ancient society, and speaks with some authority on the subject, carries the argument one stage further. In much of ancient society, most evidently in Pharaonic Egypt, but also in Ancient Sumeria and perhaps elsewhere, for quite sound and materialistic reasons, state property preceded private property, and proved the social basis for a paratheocratic despotism, which put a brake on social progress for several thousand years. Social emancipation required the breaking up of state property into private and/or communal property as a precondition for social progress. Is this not precisely what we see under way in the Soviet Union and Eastern and Central Europe at the present time?

Very many Socialists and Syndicalists before 1917 considered state ownership as a recipe for bureaucratic disaster. ‘The revolutionary Socialist denies that state ownership can end in anything other than bureaucratic despotism’, wrote William Paul (later a founder of the Communist Party of Great Britain) in 1917. Workers’ ownership, industrial union ownership, cooperative ownership, workers’ control, Guild Socialism, a hundred varieties of social ownership in these years contended with one another for pride of place. ‘It is true that Engels ... regarded the first act of the Socialist revolution as the takeover of the economy by the state’, Richardson states. He proceeds to argue, however, that ‘there is nothing in Marx and Engels which suggests that the state has to keep the property’. Opinions may differ on this point. Yet there can be no doubt that in Vol. 3 of Capital no less a person than Marx himself clearly envisages a post-capitalist society as one characterised by worker-owned enterprises coordinated one with another by means of a market.

The point I wish to add to the argument myself is the following. Classical Marxism has little or nothing useful to say about the practical organisation of post-capitalist society. Almost the only piece of literature on the subject is Karl Kautsky’s On the Morrow of the Social Revolution, published by the Social Democratic Federation in 1909. This ought to be compulsory reading for every Socialist, even today. Kautsky specifically warned against some of the dangers that ‘planned’ society might bring. Now it needs to be recognised that it is precisely the ‘planned’ command economy which has brought the Soviet economy to its present bankruptcy and ruin. After 70 years, it stands revealed as inferior in terms of the ability to organise production, on almost every count, to advanced industrial capitalism. The Soviet planned economy was far more militarised than that of the capitalist USA, far more so than even that of Hitler’s Germany between the wars. Misplaced uneconomic investment on a titanic scale has reduced the nation to something like beggary. And why is that investment misplaced? Because in the totally state owned command economy, there is no basis for rational calculation of costs. Nobody, least of all the planners, knows the proper price of anything. If we do not know what raw materials, components, finished products, transport and distribution cost, either overall or in relation to one another, then there is no way we can rationally organise economic resources. The external form is that of the plan. The internal content is that of chaos.

Already in 1909 Kautsky foresaw that planning threatened ‘to reduce [the needs of mankind] ... to a minimum, and to apportion to each his share, barrack fashion, in other words, to reduce modern civilised life to a much deeper level’. Something analogous to this we have seen emerge in Eastern and Central Europe and the Soviet Union in our own time. The command economy, marketless society in short, has ended in dystopia. Rational use of economic resources, and, yes, even ‘planning’ requires a market, the buying and selling not only of consumer goods, but also of raw materials, semi-finished and finished products, and means of production as well. Without this there can be no true prices, and no accurate knowledge of economic cost. Plan and market, properly understood, are complementary and not contradictory at all.

The ‘workers’ state’ is a nonsense. State property is in no sense social property. Rational use of economic resources requires a knowledge of real costs and thus of necessity a market. Al Richardson has rendered a great service by showing what went wrong. These three conclusions ineluctably follow, if ever things are to go right in the future. Have readers of Revolutionary History anything to say on these matters? Or are they wilfully blind to the cataclysmic events taking place all around us at the present time?

Walter Kendall


Cannon Balls

Dear Comrades

I was surprised by the extreme hostility in Al Richardson’s treatment of my book Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (Revolutionary History, Vol. 4, no. 3). As a sometime reader of your magazine, I had assumed that there would be a critically-minded review, but also a more serious and comradely review. I thought – perhaps mistakenly – that Richardson and I had more in common politically than appears to be the case. He writes that I have produced a work that ‘is far from being a Marxist book’, that what I wrote ‘does not qualify as Marxism at all’, etc. This mode of argument leaves a bad taste.

Richardson is negatively impressed by my admiration for the late American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon, my political kinship with Ernest Mandel, and the fact that I have a different and more positive appreciation than he does of the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. This sets the framework and tone for his review. But my book is not about these things. To quote the two positive comments in the review, ‘all the hard work that has gone into this book’ has resulted in a ‘compilation of most of Lenin’s remarks upon the subject’ of the revolutionary party, which – the reviewer ignores what follows – are related to the political, social, economic, intellectual and cultural context of Lenin’s time, as presented in a broad array of eyewitnesses’ and participants’ writings and memoirs, plus a variety of works by serious historians.

Richardson accuses me of ‘hero-worshipping’ James P. Cannon because I make such positive reference to him. A Stalinist reviewer has levelled a similar accusation that I make Leon Trotsky a hero. The same could be said for Rosa Luxemburg, Victor Serge, Rose Leviné-Meyer, Nadezhda Krupskaya – and, of course, for Lenin himself. Anyone having a negative view of any of these people would be as justified as Richardson in accusing me of indulging in ‘hymns of hero worship’. But I think the book is better than this.

A number of interpretive differences raised by Richardson might fruitfully be discussed: the relationship of Lenin’s philosophical perspectives of 1908 to those of 1914, the relationship of his philosophical views to his practical-political orientation, the continuity or lack of continuity in Lenin’s political orientation from 1905 to 1917, etc. Here I feel I should limit myself to three polemical points that Richardson makes.

Firstly, Richardson falsely asserts that I ‘approach Leninism as a purely organisational phenomenon’. Such a view is alien to me and to the book I wrote. Lenin and the Revolutionary Party gives considerable attention to the relationship of organisation to political analysis and strategy, and it does so in a manner that is the opposite of what Richardson attributes to me. I urge readers to take neither my word nor Richardson’s word as the final judgement on this question, but instead to look at the book itself.

Secondly, Richardson makes much of my passing reference to the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. He says this proves that I am ‘heir to the cult of Third World Stalinism that is an indubitable component of the legacy of Cannon’. (As someone expelled from the US Socialist Workers Party for opposing the displacement of Trotskyism by Castroism, Richardson’s freewheeling charges seem especially ignorant to me.) He writes ‘in view of what has happened in Nicaragua, LeBlanc must be feeling pretty foolish right now’. Whatever criticisms could be levelled at the Sandinistas, the dismissal of them as ‘Third World Stalinists’ is – to put it mildly – shallow. Richardson obviously feels there is nothing positive to be learned from these revolutionaries. I do not feel foolish for disagreeing with him. I will explain my views on this in a different study, a new version of which will be published in the near future. Of course, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party contains only a couple of sentences on this question.

Thirdly, Richardson accuses me of ‘snobbery’ (and of discussing Lenin’s politics ‘among the lions of fashionable salon and seminar rooms of the literary establishment’!), apparently basing this charge on three things: i) I allegedly dismiss all other left wing groups while seeking ‘to appropriate the legacy of Lenin to the advantage of... [my own organisation’; ii) I make positive reference in a footnote to something written by Perry Anderson, seriously discuss Sheila Rowbotham’s criticisms of Leninism, and respond to the anti-Leninist attacks of ‘one bourgeois savant after another’; and iii) ‘the very price of the book... tells its own story’. I will take these proofs of my snobbery in reverse order. The hardcover edition of the book does cost too much – despite my objections to the publisher – but I have tried to make cheaper prices available for interested readers, and a less expensive paperback edition is due to appear in 1993. It is true that I utilise Anderson (and others), discuss Rowbotham, criticise bourgeois (and Stalinist, Social Democratic, Anarchist and other anti-Leninists) – but it is not clear to me why this is a bad thing, let alone proof of ‘snobbery’.

Finally, it is absolutely false to claim that I dismiss all left wing groups but my own. Negative references to ‘self-styled “Leninist” organisations and grouplets that have proliferated like mushrooms’ should be understood in the same spirit as Richardson’s own comment that the revolutionary movement in currently ‘splintered and impotent’. The small group that I was part of when I wrote Lenin and the Revolutionary Party did not have any monopoly on Leninist virtue. It has fused with a somewhat larger group, which is also only a fragment of the revolutionary Socialist movement. My belief when I wrote the book was that a Leninist party worthy of the name can only come into existence if small group conceits and backbiting are transcended, with pseudo-revolutionary ‘one-upmanship’ and competitiveness giving way to a more serious collective process. I conceived of this, in part, as involving a growing number of us giving serious attention to theoretical texts and their historical contexts, involving ourselves in self-critical evaluations of our own experiences, and also working together in real struggles of the workers and the oppressed today and tomorrow. My book was meant to be a contribution to that process.


Paul LeBlanc

Al Richardson replies

If comrade LeBlanc was expelled from the US SWP for opposing the Castro cult I can only applaud his stance, but it seems to me that he has not thought his ideas out to their logical conclusion. A book that can make a contrast favourable to Fidel Castro’s movement as against those who attempt to apply the dialectic must surely be ‘far from being a Marxist book’. Let us not forget that Lenin’s Testament criticised Bukharin for not having really understood the dialectic, and his contributions to Socialist thought will long outlast Castro’s tedious monologues, even if they are still being churned out by the American SWP in 200 years’ time. In any case, it is inescapable that it was under Cannon’s leadership that the SWP took up this cult, and that the magazine which comrade LeBlanc edits is doing the same with the Sandinistas (there are over a dozen articles devoted to them in our incomplete file, even running to statements from Tomas Borge).

On the other hand, comrade LeBlanc’s belief that I described his book as ‘not qualifying as Marxism at all’ is based upon a misunderstanding. A glance at my review will show that I was describing how Lenin changed his basic conception of Marxism during the First World War, and that his previous formula about the ‘democratic dictatorship’ of two classes ‘does not qualify as Marxism at all’ in terms of the exposition in State and Revolution. If comrade LeBlanc wants to accept this as a rebuke directed at himself, all well and good. The fact remains, however, that he does quote with approval a statement describing a party representing two classes – a concept about which Trotsky is a good deal more scathing than I ever was (cf The Spanish Revolution, pp. 135–8).

I must admit to some amazement about comrade LeBlanc’s concept of scale in his second paragraph. Surely he is not attempting to rank James P. Cannon alongside Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Serge, Leviné-Meyer and Krupskaya? I would tend to agree rather with CLR James, that Cannon had the capacity for ‘propaganda speeches to build up the movement’ and ‘intricate organisation’, but that ‘as for the refinements of political policy, he wasn’t into that’ (C.L.R. James and British Trotskyism, London 1987, p. 14). The references I gave to mine and Sam’s books show that he was none too scrupulous in his organisational methods, to which we might add that when he came to Edinburgh to make contact with the Revolutionary Socialist Party on Trotsky’s instructions, he received their delegates in his hotel room without deigning to rise from his bed. The following remark from the British Workers International League is most instructive:

‘We cannot but remark in passing, that in nearly every letter that arrives from the States, like some King Charles’ head, the name of Lawrence appears as the subject of praise. This method of ballyhoo and advertisement- or, as it is termed in the States, “a build up”, on the “key man” principle, is certainly not the organisational method of Bolshevism, and savours more of bourgeois publicity methods.’ (Reply to Comrade Lou Cooper, September 1943)

Cannon’s use of this technique to create the reputations of Pablo and Healy should have taught us something by now, and his unashamed praise for Zinoviev’s direction of the Comintern is well documented (cf. The Struggle for Socialism in the American Century, pp. 186–7).

Finally, I still believe that comrade LeBlanc devotes far too much space to discussing books from the university syllabus (the modern equivalent of Peter Struve’s ‘Legal Marxism’) whilst today’s revolutionaries receive little more than insult in his pages. To my mind, there is just as much a class divide in what is regarded as Marxism as there is in broader society.


Not Just Trotskyism?

Dear Comrades

Many thanks for forwarding Revolutionary History, Vol. 4, no. 3. It was such a long time since I received the issue on the Spanish Civil War that I thought you had ceased to function. The present format is much to my liking, much easier to handle and to put away on the bookshelf.

Two points I wish to make on the Editorial. Firstly, I am pleased to see that you agree with my phrase which I used in a letter to Workers Press that ‘Stalinism is as dead as a dodo’, but what I’d like to know is how do we deal with the main stumbling block to revolutionary consciousness in the British working class – Labour reformism? Secondly, you say ‘we by no means identify revolutionary history with Trotskyist history alone’. I agree there, but as I was a militant Communist Party member in my young active days, I want to understand Trotskyism, what it meant, and what it means today. Your publication is an excellent vehicle for that purpose.


John Mathieson


Edmund Samarakkody

Dear Comrades

We have received the issue of Revolutionary History on Bolivia. Thank you very much. Under separate cover we are sending you the latest publications of the Centro Studi Pietro Tresso, which are a reprint of Bruno Rizzi’s Dove Va l’URSS? (Where Is the Soviet Union Going?) from 1937, which includes an introductory essay by Bruno Bongiovanni; my obituary of Edmund Samarakkody, which includes Samarakkody’s article The Root and the Flower: A Short History of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party from 1960; and a previously unpublished article by Manuel Fernández Grandizo (G. Munis) and Jaime Fernández Rodriguez concerning the history of Spanish Trotskyism in the 1930s. We have published it in the original Spanish with a French translation, and I have provided an introductory note and comprehensive footnotes.

We have looked at the Bolivian issue of Revolutionary History, and we read with interest Prins Rajasooriya’s obituary of Edmund Samarakkody. We realise that it contains many omissions and several mistakes. We list below the major mistakes, and as for his omissions – many of which appear to be dictated by old political and personal resentments – we refer to our booklet above.

  1. ‘Edmund does not appear to have been a founder member of the LSSP when it was formed in 1935, but joined it a short time thereafter.’ As a matter of fact, Edmund did actually take part in the LSSP’s founding conference on 18 December 1935, at which he was elected to the party’s Central Committee.
  2. ‘When Edmund had completed his law studies, he went into the plantation sector, and was living and working in Badulla.’ The author fails to say that Edmund was sent into Badulla by the LSSP, as one of the party’s most capable working class organisers.
  3. ‘Edmund, who was experiencing health problems, stayed behind.’ The plain truth is that after the escape from Kandy prison in April 1942, Edmund remained in Ceylon and regained his place in the LSSP’s leadership, which had been forced into total clandestinity after the party had been banned by the mid-March of that year.
  4. ‘The LSSP and BLPI held a unity conference in 1951 ...’ That’s wrong insofar as there were two LSSPs – not an LSSP and a BLPI – which united at a joint conference held on 4 June 1950, not in 1951.
  5. ‘Edmund, as the most senior party member in opposition, would have been the natural leader of any move against this trend [of adapting to the nationalists]. But no attempt was made to form a united faction of the opposition.’ As a matter of fact, an oppositional left faction took shape in the LSSP around February 1957. As Edmund admitted, that oppositional group was, however, unable to tackle the roots of reformism in the party, or to grow into an effective revolutionary tendency, because it received no support from the Pabloite Fourth International – a fact that Rajasooriya doesn’t mention at all. Nor did he mention that the anti-Pabloite International Committee of the Fourth International only began to take an interest in Ceylon in the first half of the 1960s. Thus the weaknesses of the LSSP’s left wing were also the weaknesses of the whole “Trotskyist” movement of the period.
  6. ‘It very soon became apparent that Edmund was leading a secret faction.’ The truth is that there were four tendencies in the LSSP(R) – the Sakthi group, led by the politically dubious Karalasingham, who was to rejoin the class-collaborationist LSSP a short time after the publication of the pamphlet Senile Leftism, which was quoted by Rajasooriya; Bala Tampoe’s group; the Healyite group, which by the mid-1960s had allied with the Sakthi and Tampoe groups against Edmund’s tendency; and Edmund’s tendency, which included such people as W. Dharmasena, D.S. Mallawaratchi (not Mallawarachi) and Meryl (not Merril) Fernando. It should, by the way, be noted that Rajasooriya belonged for some time to the coalitionist group led by Karalasingham before adhering to the Healyite group, which allied with Tampoe to defeat Edmund’s tendency, which in April 1968 split from the LSSP(R) to form the Revolutionary Samasamaja Party (later the Revolutionary Workers Party). Two months later, the Healyite group – which had originally built a faction (the Virodhaya group) within the coalitionist Sakthi group – also split from the LSSP(R) to form the Revolutionary Communist League. Some years later, Rajasooriya broke from the latter to flirt with Tampoe.


Paolo Casciola


Stop Press!

A LETTER from Robert Conquest tells us that the following information about the assassination of Trotsky has appeared in the Russian press (Stolitsa, 6/1993, and Rossiya, 6–12 January 1993).

Caridad Mercader, mother of Trotsky’s assassin Ramón Mercader, was present in a getaway car with NKVD officer Iosif Romualdovich Grulevich. If Ramón Mercader had been able to escape, the plan was to drive him to California and get him away on a ship. Another NKVD officer involved in this affair was Semen Aleksandrovich Gonionsky.

Ramon Mercader was given the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union, not the Order of Lenin. Though he died in Cuba, he is buried under a fine tombstone in the Kuntsevo cemetary under the name of Ramón Ivanovich Lopez.

Grulevich, under the name Lavretski, was the author of popular books on Che Guevara and Simon Bolivar, and died in 1988. The liaison of Soviet spy Leonid Eitingon with Caridad Mercader is said to have lasted several decades, whilst her rich Cuban family is said to be related to Castro. Eitingon was also a whizz at dominoes!

Updated by ETOL: 10 February 2009