Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 2
Your enthusiastic comment in your Work in Progress section (Revolutionary History, Volume 4 no. 4, p. 168) on the publication of the proceedings of the international symposium Leon Trotsky: Critic and Defender of Soviet Society, held in Wuppertal in the then-Federal Republic of Germany, on 26-29 March 1990 (for a general survey, cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 3, no. 1, pp. 35-6) deserves a comment, as the balance sheet is not nearly so positive as you imply.
The volume (Theodor Bergmann and Gert Schäfer (eds.), Leo Trotzki: Kritiker und Verteidiger der Sowjetgesellschaft. Beiträge zum internationalen Trotzki-Symposium, Wuppertal 26-29 Marz 1990, Decaton Verlag, Mainz 1993) contains but part of the proceedings, although it includes some very interesting essays, such as, for example, Judith Shapiro’s on Trotsky and the NEP, Mark Selden’s on Trotsky and the agrarian question, Mario Kessler and Enzo Traverso’s on Trotsky and the Jewish question, Vitaly Startsev’s on Trotsky’s relations with Lenin in 1922-23, Catherine Merridale’s on Trotsky and Trotskyism in Moscow 1924-32, Friedrich Firsov on Trotsky and the Comintern, and Yin Xuyi’s on Trotsky and the problems of the Chinese revolution, etc.
As a participant in that symposium, however, I consider this book to be a by-product of a bad method and the false political basis on which the symposium was organised.
The organising committee – with the old Bukharinite professor Theodor Bergmann at its head – had espoused an all-inclusive conception, and therefore accepted everybody as a speaker, so that the last figure of which we heard just before the beginning of the symposium was that there were some 120 speakers! As a matter of fact there were ‘only’ 65 speakers in the hall, and each of us was given no more than 10 minutes to present a summary of his or her paper. As a result, the time for presentation and discussion was severely cut.
In addition to that, during the symposium we were informed that only a selection of the papers was going to be published. Which ones, and on the basis of what criteria, none of us knew. Some speakers became very dissatisfied with that, as they thought it was useless to write a paper which they could not read in its entirety at the symposium, and which was not going to be included in the officially published proceedings.
Now, more than three years after, we are faced with a book which includes only 28 papers out of some 56 – and the titles of the missing ones are not even mentioned! Among those whose names have been completely neglected by Bergmann and Co. are Gregor Benton, Pierre Broué, Ludwik Hass, Tom Kemp, Miklos Kun, Jean-Jacques Marie, Jacob Moneta, Aleksandr Podshchedolkin, Hillel Ticktin, Alexander Vatlin and others, including the writer of this review. And in a manner reminiscent of the Russia of Stalin’s time (and indeed that of Stalin and Bukharin prior to 1929), we were deleted from the history of that symposium.
That was all the more disappointing, as the symposium was thoroughly mismanaged from the financial standpoint. To meet all the expenses of some 40 scholars coming from the Eastern Bloc countries (USSR, China, Yugoslavia, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Bulgaria), and to be able to give most of them an attendance allowance of some DM 100 a day, the organisers decided to give not one single pfennig of financial help to other scholars coming from Western countries. Due to this lack of financial support, some of the ostensibly rich Westerners were unable to go, including such people as Michael Löwy and Alan Wald. And those who were able to pay out of their own pockets were forced to sleep in triple rooms while paying for double rooms so as to save money for the ostensibly poor Easterners – most of whom were very senior, well-paid bureaucrats in their own countries.
But things went far worse politically. Despite Bergmann and Schäfer’s present-day claim that ‘perhaps this book can be helpful in preventing the loss of historical memory and experience’ (p. 12), it is a fact that Bergmann’s main concern was politically to embalm Trotsky and Trotskyism, which is a living current of the world working-class movement. This is graphically shown by their attempt to erase from ‘historical memory and experience’ some of Trotsky’s main contributions to the development of Marxism in our times, that is, his analysis of Fascism and Bonapartism, his critique of the class-collaborationist policy of Popular Fronts, and in particular his struggle for the Fourth International.
Bergmann even went so far as consciously preventing anyone presenting a paper on the latter. As I learnt subsequently, Livio Maitan had asked to deliver a paper on the Old Man’s fight for the Fourth International, but Bergmann informed him that somebody else was going to deal with it, and that a second contribution on that question would therefore be out of place – something which was not true at all. At a certain point I made a short intervention in which I stated the following:
Trotsky’s struggle to build a new, revolutionary International was in fact the main feature of his political activity on the 1930s. When faced with the collapse of the Stalinist Comintern in Germany, he endeavoured to build the Fourth International. That’s something which has been almost completely left out of this hall… [and which] is much too often played down in the academic milieu. Trotsky’s struggle for the Fourth International was – and is – a living struggle during which many devoted class fighters were assassinated or imprisoned not only by Stalinism, but also by Fascist and ‘democratic’ imperialism. And after all, what Trotsky was writing in the 1930s about the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, or whatever you please, was aimed precisely at building the cadres of the Fourth International.
I remember very well that my intervention was a really embarrassing one for Professor Bergmann and most of the academic people in the symposium hall. Not one of them, however, accepted my challenge. They simply cast the whole question aside. Later on, Professor Baruch Knei-Paz delivered his speech, declaring that the symposium was taking a unsatisfactory turn insofar as it was becoming far too ‘political’, and he went on at length on the 1989-90 ‘failure of Communism’. His speech was very political indeed – in a deeply reactionary, anti-Communist sense. But nobody dared publicly to oppose or criticise his views.
On the last day of the symposium, Bergmann stated that a ‘Trotskyist plot’ had been carried out there, and there is no doubt that, in his opinion, I was one of the main plotters. I could only laugh at this nonsense. In fact, the only ‘plot’ I had been able to see during those four days was the conscious attempt of he and his friends to blunt the revolutionary edge of Trotsky’s thought and activity, thus falsifying – or, at best, distorting – his true political ideas and his true role in history.
Updated by ETOL: 20.9.2011