Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 2


The Ideological Legacy of L.D. Trotsky

Marilyn Vogt-Downey (ed.)
The Ideological Legacy of L.D. Trotsky: History and Contemporary Times
International Committee for the Study of Trotsky’s Legacy, New York 1998, pp. 179, $11

THIS book contains papers submitted to the International Conference on Leon Trotsky held in Moscow on 10–12 November 1994. Since the organisers seem to have taken their subject more seriously than previous gatherings held there, the result is a very satisfactory publication. Most of the contributors have something to say, and some of the Russian ones are very stimulating indeed, cut off as they were for so long from Trotskyism’s stale orthodoxies abroad. Only rarely does this cease to be an advantage, such as when Dubrovsky discusses Trotsky’s policy on the Ukraine without betraying any knowledge whatsoever of the position of Hugo Oehler, against whom he was polemicising at the time (pp. 167–72; cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 3, no. 2, Autumn 1990, pp. 1–8).

Although Voyeikov’s initial formulation of the problem of the Russian state (‘bureaucratic Socialism’, p. 5) is not a happy one, he gives a brilliant demonstration of the accuracy of Trotsky’s predictions about the further development of the counter-revolution in the USSR (pp. 17–8). It is also of note that he supports the position of the majority of the Greek Trotskyists, that the revolution cannot be completely reversed (p. 25), a view later endorsed by Chris Edwards (p. 157), although how the latter could have got it into his head that the capital required to create a national bourgeoisie there can only come from Eastern Europe itself remains a mystery to me (p. 158). Mamutov, on the other hand, calls the Russian model ‘Asiatic in character’, and points out that ‘it is fully legitimate to contrast the contemporary European model to “Asiatic Socialism”’ (p. 51). He also refers to the link between the existence of the USSR and social welfare in the West. ‘If there had not been a Soviet Union’, he notes, ‘there would neither have been present-day Western society’ (p. 52), a view we saw confirmed when moves to dismantle the welfare state took on added momentum after the collapse of the USSR. Mil Nikolaevich Gretsky provides a fascinating treatment of the thought of Bruno Rizzi (pp. 126–33), whose theories of the part that could be played by the market, producer cooperatives, etc., in the transition to Socialism have influenced such Socialist thinkers as our own Walter Kendall. Since Shachtmanites have for so long dishonestly denied Rizzi’s influence upon them (cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no. 2, Summer 1989, p. 7, and Volume 4, no. 4, Spring 1993, p. 169), restoring him to his rightful place in the development of thought is most welcome, and Gretsky also directs our attention in passing to another Italian thinker, Umberto Melotti (p. 129), whose Marx and the Third World must be one of Marxism’s most neglected classics.

But perhaps the most exciting Russian article as far as this reviewer is concerned is that by Vladimir Borisovich Volodin (pp. 54–60), since it approaches from a different angle the reasoning in the preface to In Defence of the Russian Revolution and the article The Russian Revolution: A Twentieth Century Enigma (Lanka Guardian and What Next?, 1997). ‘Insofar as the means of production belong to the state’, he points out, ‘the bureaucracy emerges as a substitute for the bourgeoisie. Lenin had even contemplated the problem when he wrote about a bourgeois state without a bourgeoisie. According to Trotsky, the bureaucracy is a bourgeois organ of the workers’ state.’ (p. 55) After thus defining the nature of the state, Volodin goes on to place it in its historic context: ‘Normal primitive accumulation which was necessary for the transition from a patriarchal to an industrial society is the function of the bourgeoisie, which fulfils the task by means of uninterrupted violence against the workers’, he argues, ‘but the bureaucracy replaced the bourgeoisie.’ (p. 56) Now this in turn was itself only a stage in the development of the counter-revolution: ‘The bureaucracy’s total supremacy was the prelude to the restoration of capitalism, when state property had not yet been privatised but the workers had already been driven from state power.’ (p. 59) Jim Miles approaches the problem in like mind, describing the Stalinist bureaucracy as ‘the consummate expression of the bourgeois tendency within the Soviet workers’ state’, whilst noting that ‘it is the bourgeois side of the workers’ state that has to “wither away” in order to make the transition to Communism; if this does not occur, the capitalist restoration is inevitable’ (p. 61).

Other Western contributions are less exciting, not necessarily because they have less to say. For example, Ticktin’s address (pp. 105–13) has already appeared in The Ideas of Leon Trotsky (pp. 65–85). Much the same can be said for Simon Pirani’s compact essay on the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions, which goes over ground already familiar to readers of Revolutionary History (Volume 2, no. 4, Spring 1990, and Volume 3, no. 2, Autumn 1990), Ngo Van’s Revolutionaries They Could Not Break, and the various books translated and written by Greg Benton. Geoff Barr, on the other hand, appears to believe that the united front could only be posed in Britain in 1926 in trade union terms – by the Anglo-Russian Committee and the National Minority Movement (pp. 157–8), and not at all at the level of state power by means of the Labour Party tactic. Since the remarkably obtuse British Communist Party had already been groping towards this with the National Left Wing Movement, and entire chapters in Trotsky’s Where is Britain Going? hinge upon it, we can hardly conclude that the Workers Revolutionary Party and its successors have advanced the Marxist understanding of these islands very much.

A further defect of the Western contributions is to limit themselves to arguments of the ‘Trotsky woz right’ variety, but an additional disappointing feature that emerges in some of them (and not only those from the West) is an attempt to smuggle into the conference the sterile factional conflicts we have to endure over here. Chris Edwards, described as ‘a worker and an activist in the workers’ and Socialist movements in the United Kingdom’ (p. 177), uses most of his space (pp. 157–66) for an attack upon Sean Matgamna. The hapless Matgamna himself was not, of course, present to reply, though he would have found himself broadly in agreement with the thesis of Butenko (pp. 117–21; the coincidence in names is unfortunate) as opposed to the following article by Kuryonyshev (pp. 122–5).

In this context, it cannot be said that the work of the English language editor has at all added to the value of what is here. Spellings like ‘Dzhilas’ have been left as they were. The first article by Voyeikov has two sets of footnotes, one on the bottom of the pages and the other at the end, which makes following the text very confusing. The reason for this appears to be that the editor wished to abuse her position by ‘amplifying and clarifying some points’ (p. v), which on several occasions (for example, p. 14, n8; p. 22, n10; p. 23, n11) amounts to polemicising with the writer’s point of view. This is all the more impudent when we discover that she has seen fit to place her own contribution immediately after his, and subjects a later article by Gusev to the same treatment (for example, p. 83, nn2 and 3; p. 88, n5; p. 98, n7; p. 99, nn8 and 9). Her own article ‘setting the record straight’ includes the old story about Cannon, ‘one individual’ who ‘by chance learned about Trotsky’s positions’ and so ‘began’ the Trotskyist movement in the United States (p. 31). Such fairy tales do not gain in credibility the more they are repeated, and should have been abandoned long ago (cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no. 1, Autumn 1993, pp. 106–7; Journal of Trotsky Studies, no. 2, 1994, pp. 226–7).

However, it would be small-minded to allow such things to get in the way of the instruction to be gained from this splendid book. And how exciting it is to discover that the great theorist of the revolution should again be so well understood in the land of his birth!

Al Richardson

Updated by ETOL: 3.10.2011