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Alex Callinicos

Their Trotskyism and Ours

(Winter 1984)

From International Socialism 2:22, Winter 1984, pp. 117–42.
Thanks to Tad Tietze.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the last of the many debates of his long career as a revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote an article entitled: From a Scratch – to the Danger of Gangrene. [1] The article was aimed at a faction within the American section of the Fourth International (the Shachtmanites) which rejected Trotsky’s characterisation of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state. Trotsky’s theme was that this specific criticism would lead eventually to the abandonment of revolutionary Marxism in its entirety. This was not a bad prognosis of the Shachtmanites’ evolution, although this had less to do with their refusal to accept Trotsky’s analysis of the USSR than it did with what they put in its place, the theory of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’. [2] It is a particularly bitter irony that the same organization which so firmly defended Trotsky’s conception of Russia as degenerated workers’ state in 1940 against the Shachtmanites is now, precisely because of that conception, breaking with Trotsky himself. The American Socialist Workers Party (henceforth SWP(US)) is the US affiliate of the main orthodox Trotskyist grouping, the Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI). [3] For many years it was the jewel in Trotsky’s crown, an organization whose serious orientation on workers’ struggles enabled it to play a leading role in the great Minneapolis Teamsters’ strike of 1934. [4] Thanks to his presence in Mexico during the last years of his life, Trotsky was able to participate closely in the life of the SWP(US). The party’s leaders, notably James P. Cannon, were undoubtedly able figures who benefited from this relationship: Cannon’s writings, such as The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, still repay reading. For many years since Trotsky’s death, the SWP(US) has acted as a custodian of his thought, making his ideas available through its publishing house, above all in the twelve volume Writings of Leon Trotsky (1920–40).

It therefore comes as something of a surprise to read a speech by the leading figure in the contemporary SWP(US), Jack Barnes, given at the end of 1982, in which he declares: ‘Most of us will not call this movement “Trotskyist” this is out’. [5] Much of Barnes’s is devoted to a critique of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which he describes as an ‘obstacle’, giving rise to leftist and sectarian political errors’. ‘If we are to learn what we can learn as part of the political convergence under way among proletarian revolutionists in the world today, and bring into that process Trotsky’s enormous political contributions, then our movement must discard permanent revolution.’ [6]

This is not simply a theoretical shift taking place in a political vacuum. The key to what is happening is provided by Barnes’s reference to ‘the political convergence under way among proletarian revolutionists in the world today’. By this he means essentially the revolutions in Cuba, Nicaragua, and (unhappy country!) Grenada. For Barnes and the SWP(US) these events are on a par with the Russian Revolution of October 1917:

What has happened since 1959 in Cuba, and since 1979 in Grenada and Nicaragua, is something that had not occurred since 1917-23 period in Russia – victorious revolutions led by forces consciously committed to organizing and mobilizing the workers and poor farmers to overturn capitalist property relations, reorganize society along socialist lines and aid others around the world by seeking to throw off imperialist domination and exploitation. This development represents the revival of the political continuity of Marxism on the level of political parties leading the toilers in the exercise of state power ...

What has happened in this hemisphere is not only the opening of the American socialist revolution, which would be enough, but the re-emergence of proletarian revolutionists in power – for the first time since the Stalinist-led bureaucracy put an end to such leadership in the Soviet Union and expunged proletarian internationalism from the Communist International more than half a century ago. [7]

If this were true, then it would be of the greatest importance. It would mean that revolutionary socialist politics had at last regained a mass audience, fifty years after the defeat of the German revolution and the degeneration of the Russian in the early 1920s. Unfortunately, it is not true.

To see this, we have only to look at the sad case of Grenada. The SWP(US) have treated the seizure of power by Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement in 1979 as an event of the same nature as Russia 1917 and (in their view) Cuba 1959. One SWP(US) leader declared shortly after the Grenadan revolution: ‘The new government of Grenada is a workers and farmers government with a revolutionary proletarian leadership, the New Jewel Movement (NJM).’ [8]

Yet what happened? This ‘revolutionary proletarian leadership’ split in two, one faction (that of Bernard Coard) imprisoning the other (led by Bishop). When a demonstration freed Bishop, the ‘Revolutionary People’s Army’ was used to mow them down, and to execute Bishop and his colleagues. This murderous conduct by ‘proletarian revolutionists’ gave US imperialism an excellent pretext to send in the marines. The result is an island under American occupation, with NJM activists caged in wooden boxes, and the name of their revolution dirt in the minds of the masses for whose liberation it was made. Kenneth Radix, a NJM leader and a supporter of Bishop, was released from the American ‘sweat-boxes’ only to have to be rescued by US troops when an angry crowd of mourners attacked him during the funeral of one of the invasion’s victims. Grenada has joined Russia, Kampuchea and Afghanistan as one of those albatrosses that hang round revolutionaries’ necks, one more association of socialism with bloody and fissiparous despotisms.

Beastly though the Grenadan affair has been, it should not have come as an enormous surprise. The disaster that befell the NJM was not a result of some ‘mistake’ on the part of its leadership, of a failure to observe the norms of socialist democracy. The possibility of such an was built into the very of the revolutionary process in Grenada. It was a case of ‘socialism from above’ in which a minority of determined revolutionaries seized the state machine in order to transform society on behalf of masses. As such, it was little different from the other revolutions in the Third World since 1945 – China, Vietnam, Cuba, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola, Kampuchea, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua. Variations in the circumstances of these countries and in their class-relations have meant that the resulting regimes have varied in the manner in which they took power (rural guerrilla warfare in most cases, military coups in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Grenada), their depth of popular support (considerable in the case of, say, Nicaragua, negligible in Afghanistan), and in the extent to which they have broken economic ties with Western and private capitalism (more or less completely in Vietnam and Cuba, only to a limited degree in Angola, Zimbabwe, and Nicaragua). Despite these variations, the essential pattern has been the same: they are all revolutions in which movements usually dominated by middle-class intellectuals have seized power in the name of the mass of workers and peasants but, to the degree that they have expropriated foreign and private capital, have put in its place bureaucratic state capitalism.

I do not to discuss here the case of the Grenadan revolution nor of its Cuban and Nicaraguan brothers: the latter task has already been undertaken by those more competent than I in the pages of this journal. [9] My immediate concern is with the American SWP. It is not unusual for western socialists to go all trembly about some Third World revolution or other, Third Worldism is an old disease to which frustrated leftists eager to live vicariously off the struggles of others often succumb. So, in itself, there’s nothing very new about, for example, Mary-Alice Waters’s account of her first visit to Nicaragua: ‘When you step out of your plane at the Augusto Cesar Sandino Airport in Managua, you know that somewhere, up in the air, you crossed a class line ... Young people are in charge of everything ... the whole country is smiling’, etc., etc. [10] What is striking, though, is that Waters isn’t just another woolly Third Woridist, she’s a long-standing SWP(US) leader, and has even edited a collection of writings by Rosa Luxemburg, that vigilant critic of every form of substitutionism.

What I shall try to do in the rest of this article is to consider the theoretical reasons given by the SWP(US) for what amounts to their final break with revolutionary socialism, to trace the sources of this rupture in the orthodox Trotskyism which the Americans have always shared even with those in the European sections of the USFI who bitterly attack their new course, and, finally, to consider Trotsky’s significance for revolutionaries today. The sad degeneration of what was once Trotsky’s pride and joy can at least provide a lesson in what is living and what is dead in his thought.

The ‘workers’ and farmers’ governments’ of Central America

The SWP(US)’s case comes, essentially, under two heads. First, there is their assessment of the Cuban, Nicaraguan and Grenadan regimes. Secondly, there is the critique which this assessment compels them to make of Trotsky.

To understand the SWP(US)’s analysis of Cuba in particular we must first recall briefly the main features of the orthodox Trotskyist theory of bureaucratic workers’ states. Trotsky argued from 1933 onwards that although the USSR remained a workers’ state because the means of production were still owned by the state, a privileged bureaucratic caste, led by Stalin, had succeeded in expropriating the working class politically. The bureaucracy, Trotsky argued, was irreformable; it could only be removed by a political revolution in which the workers resumed their control of the state. [11]

The emergence, in the late 1940s, of a number of states structurally identical to the USSR yet lacking its origins in an authentically proletarian revolution – China and the ‘People’s Democracies’ of Eastern Europe – presented the Fourth International with a conundrum, This was eventually solved by calling these societies ‘deformed workers’ state’, These were bureaucratic regimes based, like the USSR, on the state ownership of the means of production. However, because they were established, not through the conquest of power by workers’ councils under revolutionary leadership, they were deformed from the start, rather than, like the Russian state, having subsequently degenerated. A political revolution would be necessary in these states also in order to establish genuine workers’ democracy. [12]

The necessity of political revolution in the deformed workers’ state (China and Vietnam included) is crucial to this analysis, for it provides a rationale for independent revolutionary parties affiliated to the Fourth International. For even if Stalinist or Stalinist-influenced parties (we shall return to the USFI’s view of the Chinese and Vietnamese CPs below) can actually inaugurate a break with capitalism, the transition to socialism can only be effected once the workers and peasants of these countries have overthrown the bureaucracy under the leadership of genuine revolutionary socialist parties.

The American SWP does not believe this analysis applies to Cuba. Adding yet a new metaphysical inflection to the scholastic subleties which already afflict the USFI’s analysis of the eastern bloc, they have taken over Lenin’s description of Russia in 1920–1 as ‘a workers state with bureaucratic deformations’. [13] In the words of Larry Seigle,

we think that the most accurate description of Cuba today is: a workers state with bureaucratic deformations. This means that a political fight has to be waged against bureaucratism and privilege and for the institutionalization of proletarian democracy, but it does not imply the need to organize the workers of Cuba to forcibly overthrow the Castro leadership. Under the impact of revolutionary developments on a world scale, the door to reform remains open. [14]

We shall return to the question of political revolution. For the moment, let us concentrate on the reasons that the SWP(US) give for distinguishing Cuba from the other ‘workers’ states’. There is no doubt that they have serious illusions in the extent of workers’ democracy in Cuba: ‘That there are privileges and abuses is incontestable. But that is not the same thing as a crystallized bureaucratic caste that places the securing and expansion of its material benefits in the arena of consumption ahead of the interests of the masses.’ [15] Anyone who shares these illusions should read Peter Binns’s article in the last issue of this journal. But the SWP(US) do not rest their case for Cuba on the supposed existence of workers’ power there. Siegle acknowledges that there are no ‘soviet bodies of proletarian democracy in the Leninist sense’ in Cuba. [16]

The SWP(US) distinguish Cuba from what they call the bureaucratic workers’ states because of the nature and quality of the Castro leadership. Anyone who, to their sorrow, has had like myself to plough through SWP(US) material will know how often the word ‘leadership’ occurs. The novelty of the Central American revolutions after fifty years of Stalinism and social-democracy lies not in the existence of organs of workers’ power, but in their ‘proletarian leadership’.

Examples of this style of argument could be given endlessly. For example, according to Barnes:

In Cuba, in the middle of the capitalist expansion, an entirely new phenomenon appeared – a revolutionary leadership of non-Stalinist origin led a genuinely popular revolution, and then led the to state power. They linked the Cuban revolution with the existing workers’ states, which, regardless of their degeneration, had not been overthrown by capitalist counter-revolution. In the process, through their experiences and study the Cuban revolutionaries became Marxists, and thus opened a new period for the world revolution. [17]

Throughout, the focus is on the Cuban leadership. Indeed, insofar as there has been a debate on Cuba itself within the SWP(US) and the Fourth International generally it has been concerned with the nature of the Castro leadership – is it Stalinist, centrist, or revolutionary? [18] For the SWP(US), Castro & Co are ‘revolutionary, though not Leninist’. [19]

The entire line of argument is a classic case of what Trotsky called substitutionism. [20] The agency of revolutionary change is not the working class itself, but its (usually self-appointed) leaders. Socialism is no longer conceived, as it was by Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky themselves, as the self-emancipation of the working class, but as the act of a minority on the masses’ behalf. Apart from anything else, the result is a revision of historical materialism itself, for the proletarian character of a regime is determined not by such materialist criteria as the power directly exercised by workers through Soviets, the class composition of the leading party, and its relationship to the masses. Instead, the verbal adhesion of the regime’s leaders to ‘proletarian ideology’ (usually some version of Stalinized ‘Marxism-Leninism’) becomes the test of a workers’ state. [21] Thus, the endless interviews and speeches of Castro and other Central American leftist leaders which appear in SWP(US) publications are not simply a product of dewy-eyed Third Worldism: they provide proof of these figures’ ‘proletarian revolutionist’ credentials, and hence of those of the states they head.

But there is a logic to substitutionism. If forces other than the working class itself can overturn capitalism, then what is the point of independent revolutionary parties whose is to stimulate and lead the proletarian struggle for power? The argument is unanswerable. It powers the SWP(US)’s growing break with Trotskyism.

Barnes puts the case very clearly. The Cubans, Nicaraguans and Grenadans are ‘a revolutionary Marxist current, a proletarian current, living and struggling to extend the socialist revolution today ... The existence of this current, and the new steps forward it is today, are decisive ... in overcoming the single most important question facing humanity – the crisis of proletarian leadership.’ [22]

The whole point of launching the Fourth International in 1938 was precisely to solve ‘the crisis of proletarian leadership’ by providing a revolutionary alternative to Stalinism and social democracy. If the Cubans and their allies are a genuinely non-Stalinist, ‘revolutionary Marxist current’, then the Fourth International has become redundant. The SWP(US) don’t actually say this. Rather, they talk of ‘a worldwide political convergence of forces’, including the Cuban CP, the FSLN, the NUM, and the USFI, whose outcome would be ‘the construction of a mass, communist International.’ [23]

The SWP(US)’s critique of Trotsky

Although they describe this prospect as an enormous ‘opportunity’ for the USFI, the SWP(US) also make it clear that Trotskyism itself is a major obstacle to this ‘convergence’. According to Barnes, ‘probably 80 per cent of those on a world scale who present themselves as Trotskyists – maybe it’s 70 per cent, maybe 90 per cent – are irreformable sectarians.’ [24] And this is not simply a matter of the deformation or revision of Trotsky’s thought – the theory of permanent revolution itself is largely responsible for the ‘sectarianism and ultra-leftism’ of which even the USFI has been guilty. [25]

To understand the logic of the SWP(US) critique of Trotsky we have to return to their analysis of the Central American revolutions. They do not describe these upheavals as the establishment of proletarian dictatorships under socialist leadership. Not even the SWP(US) claim that the 26 July Movement in Cuba were revolutionary socialists in 1959; rather, in Barnes’s words, they ‘became Marxists’ after the seizure of power. In Cuba, three distinct stages are identified. First, there was the ‘bourgeois coalition government’, established in January 1959, in which the 26 July Movement participated but did not dominate. However, under the pressure of mass mobilizations, the bourgeois figures were rapidly removed and, by November 1959, ‘a workers’ and government’ had been established Castro. This government proceeded to expropriate local and foreign capital. ‘Capitalist property relations were thus overturned and the hold of the bourgeoisie on the economic levers of power was definitively broken. By the fall of 1960, a workers state had been born in the first “free territory of the Americas”.’ [26]

In Grenada and Nicaragua, the revolution has, according to the SWP(US), taken a somewhat different form. Both the NJM and the FSLN proceeded directly to the establishment of a ‘workers’ and farmers’ government’, without any coalition with the bourgeoisie. However, the bourgeoisie was not expropriated. Thus, according to Waters, ‘in Nicaragua the question of political power has been settled. A workers’ and peasants’ government, dominated by the FSLN, was established in the weeks immediately following the mass insurrection that definitively smashed the state structure controlled by Somoza.’ However, despite the nationalization of the banks and Somoza’s private economic empire, ‘the laws of capital accumulation continue to govern in decisive sectors of the economy.’ [27] Similarly, in pre-invasion Grenada, ‘the government is based on the class interests of the toilers, while it still must defend the preservation of capitalist property relations in substantial sectors of the economy.’ [28]

In all three countries the critical phase, according to the SWP(US), is the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government, a distinct stage of the revolutionary process different from and prior to the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Barnes writes:

Workers’ and farmers’ governments are characterized by a stage in the class struggle where capitalist property relations have not yet been abolished, but where the workers and farmers have conquered political power through a genuine revolution. The main task of proletarian revolutionists in such a government is to organize, mobilize, and raise the class consciousness of the working class and its allies, to lead them through the class struggle to the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the consolidation of a workers state. [29]

On this account, the difference between workers’ and farmers’ government and workers’ state is that between politics and economics. In the first stage, workers and peasants hold political power, but the capitalists control the economy. In the second, the economic power of the bourgeoisie is broken through nationalizations. We shall return to this crucial distinction between economics and politics. The point to note here is that the whole attempt to decompose the revolutionary process into stages runs into direct conflict with Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

For Trotsky’s argument, as first formulated during the Russian revolution of 1905 and then generalized in the course of the Chinese revolution of 1925–7, was precisely to challenge the notion, shared by both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks before 1917, and revived by Stalin and Bukharin in the 1920s, that the revolution in the backward countries would pass through a distinct bourgeois-democratic phase prior to the conquest of power by the working class. In particular, Trotsky attacked Lenin’s formula of the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ in which the working class and not the bourgeoisie would exercise political hegemony, but which would remain within the bounds of capitalism.

It is his rejection of this formula which attracts the SWP(US)’s hostility towards Trotsky. Thus Barnes berates him for having ‘no concept of a transitional regime – of a dictatorship, based on an alliance of the workers and peasants, emanating from a victorious social revolution against the propertied classes, that would allow the workers to lead their toiling allies in the transition from the democratic to the socialist revolution.’ [30]

It’s putting it a little weakly to say that Trotsky had ‘no concept of a transitional regime’, of ‘a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship’. Both before 1917, and then from the late 1920 onwards, he savagely attacked such a concept, arguing that its application in practice would lead to attempts by revolutionaries to hold back workers’ and peasants’ struggles rather than offend their petty-bourgeois, and even bourgeois allies in the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship’. [31] This prognosis was confirmed by the behaviour of the Bolshevik leaders in the months between the revolution of February 1917 and Lenin’s return to Russia in April, and, on a larger and much more tragic scale, by the destruction of the Chinese Communist Party in 1927, by the bourgeois Kuomintang to whom they had allied themselves on Stalin’s orders.

Barnes makes the point that Trotsky’s criticisms of Stalinist policy in China were largely formulated in terms of the old formula of ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship’. [32] This is quite true, although not much news to anyone who has Trotsky’s writings on China. Trotsky seems immediately after 1917 to have seen the theory of permanent revolution as an analysis specifically of the driving forces of the Russian revolution, as indeed it had been originally. Comintern policy in China in the mid-1920s amounted to a reversion to Menshevism, inasmuch as it involved an alliance between the proletariat and, crucially, the ‘progressive’ wing of the bourgeoisie represented by the Kuomintang. This involved a breach with the notion of a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship’, even though Stalin and Bukharin paid lip-service to the formula, since Lenin had consistently stressed before 1917 both the incapacity of the Russian bourgeoisie playing a revolutionary role and the leading role of the working class in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, However, the Chinese disaster confirmed beyond any shadow of doubt that the concept of the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship’ was dangerously ambiguous, and should be rejected. So in the late 1920s Trotsky generalized the theory of permanent revolution into an account of the revolutionary process in the backward countries as a whole. [33]

I do not wish to say much about the SWP(US)’s actual critique of Trotsky’s theory. Ernest Mandel, the main European leader of the USFI, has already provided an impeccably orthodox demolition of their arguments. [34] It is worth noting, however, the extent to which the SWP(US) mimic the classic Stalinist attacks on Trotsky. According to Barnes, ‘Stalin, Bukharin, and their followers harked back to Trotsky’s pre-1917 political errors, [and] exaggerated their weight’. [35] Much the same could be said of his own arguments. Thus he dwells on what Trotsky himself conceded to be his centrist vacillations between Menshevism and Bolshevism prior to 1917. What relevance is Trotsky’s self-acknowledged to understand the role of the party before Feburary 1917 to his views on permanent revolution? The answer is that, as in the case of the Stalinists, Barnes wishes to make a false counterposition of Trotsky to some totally correct Leninist orthodoxy.

Much play is thus made of the first four congresses of the Communist International (1919–24), ‘the programme and strategy of the Communist International during its early years under the leadership of a Russian Communist team that included Nikolai Bukharin, Karl Radek, Leon Trotsky, and Gregory Zinoviev, and was led by Vladimir Lenin.’ [36] Barnes tells us about Lenin’s struggle against ultra-leftism at the Third Congress of the Comintern in 1921. What he doesn’t say, in true Stalinist fashion, is that this split the supposedly monolithic Bolshevik ‘team’ wide open, with Lenin and Trotsky tooth and nail against the bureaucratic ‘leftism’ of Zinoviev, Radek, and Bukharin.

Barnes doesn’t go as far as Stalin. Trotsky is only bad in parts. Tidied up, his hair cut, stuck in the back row of the Bolshevik team photos (rather than removed from the pictures altogether, as he was by the Stalinists), he will do:

From the standpoint of our political continuity, our Trotsky begins in 1917, not before. Trotsky, part of the Bolshevik leadership team of the Soviet state, Communist Party and the Communist International. Trotsky, along with other leaders of the Bolshevik team, fighting to continue the application of genuine communist policies in the Soviet state and the Comintern following Lenin s death. And Trotsky, after 1928, carrying on that struggle, now alone among the Bolshevik leaders. [37]

Trotsky is acceptable only qua Bolshevik. Insofar as he disagrees with Old Bolshevik pre-1917 orthodoxy, he is out of line and must be rejected. It becomes a puzzle why, with all the centrist and ultra-left baggage which Trotsky, on Barnes’s account, carried with him, he was the only member of the ‘team’ to stand up to Stalin, while all those splendid Old Bolsheviks like Zinoviev and Bukharin quickly capitulated to Stalin, to the extent they ever fought him. Could it have anything to do with the superiority of his politics, or was he just tougher-minded than the others?

The answer must be sought in the theory of permanent revolution itself. The generalization of that theory beyond purely Russian conditions in the late 1920s, in such texts as The Third International after Lenin and Permanent Revolution, provided Trotsky with an intellectual framework to combat Stalinism. The three key propositions of the theory – capitalism as a world system governed by the law of uneven and combined development, the tendency of bourgeois democratic struggles in the backward countries to ‘grow over’ into a struggle for workers’ power, and the necessity of world revolution – formed the basis of an overall conception of the imperialist epoch by means of which Trotsky could analyse more specific situations, like China, Germany, France and Spain. The 1920s had shown that it was not enough to remain on the ground of Old-Bolshevik orthodoxy. The implications of the two revolutions of 1917 themselves needed to be grasped, of the way in which, having overturned the Tsarist autocracy in February, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils went on in October, under Bolshevik leadership and with peasant support, to thrust aside the bourgeois provisional government and implement both socialist and bourgeois-democratic demands; both inroads into the power of capital, and the expropriation of the landed gentry. Only the theory of permanent revolution provided the basis for both learning the lessons of October, and applying them to other countries.

Barnes’s only serious objection to the theory of permanent revolution is to revive the old Stalinist red herring that Trotsky had ‘underestimated the peasantry’. He dredges up a few quotations in order to prove that ‘unlike Lenin ... Trotsky insisted that ... class divisions in the countryside precluded a strategy of alliance with broad layers of the Russian peasantry as a whole in the struggle against the Tsarist autocracy and landlordism.’ [38] The truth is that one can find similar remarks by Lenin, especially prior to 1905. All the Bolshevik leaders had a tendency to overestimate the social polarization of the peasantry, and this was true both before and after 1917. The person who took the analysis to extremes was not Trotsky, but Stalin, when he used it to legitimize the forced collectivization of agriculture and the liquidation of the kulaks. [39]

In any case, Trotsky’s crucial point about the peasantry has not to do with its internal differentiation, but with its political capacity. Both 1905 and The History of the Revolution make it perfectly clear that the entire peasantry’s struggle for land was one of the main driving forces of the revolutionary process. However, following Marx, Trotsky argues that the conditions in which peasants produce – above all, their fragmentation into small-holdings worked by individual households – mean that they cannot act as an independent political force. The peasants, Trotsky concludes, can only make their power felt on a national scale under the leadership of an urban class. The crux of his theory is really this question: who is to lead the peasantry, the bourgeoisie or the proletariat? Because of the incapacity of the Russian bourgeoisie (and its counterparts elsewhere in the backward countries), it could only be the proletariat.

There is, not precisely a flaw, but a gap in Trotsky’s reasoning, though it has nothing to do with his supposed ‘underestimation’ of the peasantry. Sorting out this difficulty cannot, however, be separated from an attempt to trace the theoretical sources of the SWP(US)’s break with Trotsky in orthodox Trotskyism itself. To this I now turn.

The dilemmas of orthodox Trotskyism

I have already indicated that the SWP(US)’s views on Cuba, Nicaragua and Grenada, and their criticisms of Trotsky have not gone unopposed within the Fourth International. Indeed, the past few years have seen an increasingly bitter controversy over the subject between the main European leaders of the FI and the SWP(US). [40] The subject is, indeed, likely to dominate the forthcoming FI World Congress, due to take place in 1983, but postponed till this spring, perhaps because of the row with the SWP(US).

It is important to stress that this is not the first time that the SWP(US) and the European leaders have been at odds. In fact, it is hard to remember a time when they have not, ever since the Reunification Congress of 1963 brought back together the SWP(US) and its client sections with the supporters of the Europe-based International Secretariat of the FI (the two wings had split from one another ten years previously). [41] The direction of the debate has changed quite markedly. Till the late 1970s the SWP(US) seemed to be evolving into a rather small and dogmatic social-democratic party, much more hostile to the Stalinist states than the rest of the USFI. Ironically, this led them to make formally correct Leninist criticisms of the Europeans’ ‘Castroism’ during the latter’s enthusiasm for urban and rural guerrillas in Latin America during the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, in the mid-1970s the SWP(US) took an openly reformist position over the Portuguese revolution, supporting the Socialist Party, backed by international social-democracy and Western imperialism, in their attacks on the revolutionary workers and soldiers of Lisbon. This stance meant that they did not support the MPLA when South Africa invaded Angola in 1975, and denounced the of Cuban troops to that country. [42]

Nevertheless, it seemed in the late 1970s as if the European and American factions of the USFI had resolved their differences around a position quite close to that of the SWP(US). And indeed the Europeans, who make up a majority in the FI, have since the Portuguese revolution consistently pursued a strategy which effectively tails the reformist parties. [43] However, since 1979 a series of arguments had reopened all the old wounds – first a bitter but obscure row about whether Kampuchea under Pol-Pot was a deformed workers’ state or state-capitalist [44], and now the debates about Cuba, Nicaragua, and permanent revolution.

There is no doubt that both sides take the argument extremely seriously. So, Larry Seigle of the SWP(US) declares: ‘We are still fighting for the soul of the Cuban revolution, for the soul of the Socialist Workers’ Party, and for the soul of the Fourth International.’ [45] The matter is equally urgent for Ernest Mandel, chief spokesman for the Europeans. ‘Our polemic has only one goal,’ he writes: ‘to save the Socialist Workers Party for revolutionary Marxism, for the American revolution, for the world revolution.’ [46] High stakes indeed.

Like the good medieval schoolman that he really is, Mandel produces texts aplenty to show the extent to which the SWP(US) have misrepresented Trotsky’s thought. Admirable though this performance is, however, it is undermined by the theoretical premisses Mandel and the USFI majority share with the SWP(US).

To see this let us consider the decision by the bulk of Trotsky’s followers in the late 1940s to characterize both China and the ‘People’s Democracies’ of eastern Europe as ‘deformed workers’ states’ even though they did not owe their origins to proletarian seizures of power. There were a variety of reasons for this decision, some of which have to with flaws in Trotsky’s thought. Of these, two are relevant here.

First, and most obviously, Trotsky had argued that Stalinist Russia remained a workers’ state, albeit a degenerated one, because of the state owned means of production and controlled foreign trade. This was, of course, a breach with historical materialism: the character of a social formation was determined, not by which class had effective possession of the means of production, but by what Marx called the ‘metaphysical or juridical fiction’ of legal property-forms. Once this step had been taken, it was not difficult to describe China and eastern Europe as workers’ states, on the grounds that there too the state had assumed control of the means of production. [47]

The second reason was specific to China (but could be, and was, extended to other Third World revolutions). Trotsky had argued that there was a tendency for the bourgeois-democratic revolution in the backward countries to grow over into the proletarian-socialist revolution. Like any scientific theory, this proposition does not predict that such a growing-over is inevitable. Whether it happens depends on the existence of certain antecedent conditions – the political of the peasantry, the counter-revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie in backward countries, and, above all, the independent political organization of the proletariat. Before 1917, Trotsky tended to neglect this last, crucial condition, assuming that the working class would spontaneously develop in a revolutionary direction without the intervention of a centralized party. From 1917 onwards, of course, he recognized that such a party was essential to the success of any revolution. However, there is no doubt that sometimes in the 1930s Trotsky used formulations which seemed to treat the growing over of the bourgeois-democratic into the proletarian-socialist revolution as inevitable. [48]

In consequence, Trotsky did not really confront the question of what would happen if neither bourgeoisie nor proletariat played a revolutionary role in the backward countries. Would the pressures toward social and political revolt in both town and country acquire no political expression? The answer is that they did, in a succession of Third World revolutions from China 1949 to Nicaragua thirty years later. In none of these cases did either capitalists or workers take the lead. Rather, as Tony Cliff showed in a path-breaking analysis, a process of ‘deflected permanent revolution’ occurred, in which the vacuum left by the two main classes of bourgeois society was filled by the middle-class intelligentsia, a force capable of leading revolutionary struggles especially by the peasantry against imperialism but not of destroying capitalism. The result, as I have already pointed out, was at best (if that is the right way of putting it) bureaucratic state capitalism. [49]

The leaders of the Fourth International rejected the possibility of such an outcome, of a social force other than either proletariat or bourgeoisie filling the vacuum and leading a struggle against imperialism. They were encouraged in this by Trotsky’s rather metaphysical insistence that nothing even remotely approximating to a bourgeois-democratic revolution could be achieved in the epoch of imperialism save under proletarian leadership (an assertion refuted by, among other things, the establishment of independent centres of capital accumulation in such ‘newly industrializing countries’ as India, Brazil, South Korea etc. [50]). They concluded that any revolution which carried out such bourgeois-democratic tasks as agrarian reform and national liberation could only have taken place under proletarian leadership. Hence revolutions such as those in Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam and Cuba must be socialist. There resulted a problem. Trotsky had insisted that Stalinism was, on a world scale, a counter-revolutionary force: ‘The bureaucracy which became a reactionary force in the USSR cannot play a revolutionary role on the world arena.’ [51] That, indeed was the very rationale for the Fourth International in the first place: the world working class needed a new leadership to lead the struggle against capitalism, imperialism and the Russian bureaucracy. Yet apparently in countries like Vietnam, Yugoslavia and China Stalinist parties were able to lead successful workers’ revolutions. Granted there emerged deformed workers’ states, but nevertheless the area of the globe under proletarian rule had been vastly extended. What then was the point of the Fourth International? Why have independent revolutionary parties if Stalinism can deliver the goods? Would it not be more for Trotskyists to orient themselves on the Stalinist parties and attempt to push them leftwards and make them more democratic?

This dilemma has dominated the USFI for more than thirty years. It underlay the 1953 split, when the International Secretariat followed the lead of Michel Raptis (better known by his cadre name of Pablo) and oriented on the Stalinist parties, a course rejected by the SWP(US) and the predecessors of the Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain and the Organisation Communiste Internationale in France. [52] The 1963 reunification brought the SWP(US) back together with some of Pablo’s estwhile European followers. Both sides agreed in identifying three main ‘sectors of world revolution’ – the struggle for socialist revolution in the west, for political revolution in the east, and for permanent revolution in the south, all of which required Trotskyist leadership to succeed. [53]

The dilemma remained. How could counter-revolutionary Stalinist parties lead successful workers’ revolutions? One solution to the problem was to deny that these parties were Stalinist. This is the course adopted by the USFI majority. Thus Mandel writes:

The dictatorship of the proletariat was established in Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, and Cuba by pragmatic revolutionary leaderships that had a revolutionary practice but a theory and programme that was adequate neither to their own revolution, nor especially to the world revolution.

The fact that they carried out a socialist revolution – a fact that is infinitely more important than their lack of an adequate theory – means that it would be the height of sectarianism to call them ‘counterrevolutionaries’. To call them ‘Stalinists’ would amount to giving Stalinism entirely new merits. However, the fact that they did not and still do not have an adequate overall programme for constructing a socialist world means that calling them ‘revolutionary Marxists’ would be entirely out of place. They are pragmatic revolutionaries, we would say ‘left centrists’ from a theoretical point of view, without giving the slightest pejorative coloration to that term. But the lack of a correct programme is not a tiny wart on a face radiant with beauty. It is a serious deficiency, which has negative practical consequences both for the intervention in the world revolution and for the construction of socialism in their own country. [54]

This passage is typical of orthodox Trotskyism in general and of Mandel in particular. Formal adhesion to Trotsky’s thought is preserved at the price of destroying its revolutionary and scientific content. The parties which led the revolutions in Yugoslavia, China, Cuba and Vietnam weren’t Stalinist. As Mandel correctly says, that ‘would amount to giving Stalinism entirely new merits.’ Instead these are accorded to ‘pragmatic revolutionaries’ – Tito, Mao, Castro, and Ho. Once again the dilemma is posed: why be a Trotskyist if you can lead a revolution without a ‘correct programme’? Mandel is entirely right in saying that ‘the fact that they made a socialist revolution ... is infinitely more important than their lack of adequate theory’. But the consequences are just as dire for those trying to establish the need for a Trotskyist party.

Nor does it help to call the 26 July Movement and the Chinese, Vietnamese and Yugoslav CPs ‘left centrist’. In the revolutionary Marxist tradition the term ‘centrism’ has usually been applied to such figures as Karl Kautsky and Otto Bauer. The complaint made by Lenin, Trotsky, and others about these was less their ‘lack of the correct programme’ – they were usually very good talking about revolution. They just didn’t do anything about it. The concept of a form of centrism which actually leads socialist revolutions is an interesting addition to Marxism. If such centrism exists, and indeed is in power in Peking, Belgrade, and Havana, why not join it?

‘Alan Jones’ (a pseudonym of a prominent leader of the USFI’s British section) produces the following rather odd argument for describing the Cuban leadership in particular as centrist rather than revolutionary. ‘The class struggle by its very nature is international. Therefore the criteria for determining a current are also international.’ [55] Thus, Castro & Co can be revolutionary only if their international policy is revolutionary. But, as Jones points out, this has not been the case, notably in Africa. Thus, ‘the consolidation of a left-bourgeois-regime, and not the overthrow of capitalism, has been the constant thread of Cuban policy in Angola just as in Ethiopia. This line has been repeated in the other African states in which the Cubans have a serious involvement.’ [56]

Nevertheless, Jones insists, ‘a crystallized bureaucratic caste, with not merely wrong political positions but material interests which are different from those of the working class, has not been hardened out’ in Cuba, and so it would be wrong to call for a political revolution against Castro. [57] Jones therefore describes the Cuban leadership as ‘centrist’, comparing it to Trotsky’s view of the Stalin faction the Bolshevik party during the 1920s. But of course Trotsky’s identification of Stalinism with ‘bureaucratic centrism’ was based on a complete misreading of the balance of class forces within the USSR, namely the mistaken belief that the main danger of a restoration of capitalism came from the rich peasants (represented in the CPSU by the right, led by Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky), rather than, as turned out to be the case, by the crystallizing bureaucracy around Stalin. [58]

Moreover, as David Frankel and Larry Seigle of the SWP(US) point out, Jones does not pursue the political implications of his analogy. If Castro were indeed playing the same role as Stalin in the 1920s,

we would have to adopt a stance parallel to the approach of the Left Opposition in the 1920s ... the axis of our analysis, our writing and speaking, our intervention would be one of trying to expose the betrayals of the revolution by Castro and his bureaucratic faction as they zig-zag along. And even when we support a concrete action they take, we would warn that the general line along which the ruling Castroist wing is advancing constitutes a deadly threat to the Cuban revolution and to the interests of the toilers in Cuba and around the world. We would follow this policy inside of Cuba as well as internationally. [59]

The SWP(US) approach is undoubtedly more consistent than that of Mandel and Jones. The attempt to distinguish between foreign and domestic policies is artificial. Either Castro & Co are ‘pragmatic revolutionaries’ through and through, at home and abroad, or they are, like Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s, counter-revolutionary. No amount of hand-waving and waffle about ‘dialectic’ will remove Mandel and his supporters from the horns of this dilemma.

One can understand why Mandel would like to avoid this choice. The logic of the SWP(US) position is towards the liquidation of independent revolutionary organizations, and fusion with those parties which had led, or are leading ‘workers’ and peasants’ governments’ to power – the Cuban CP, the FSLN in Nicaragua, the FMLN-FDR in El Salvador. The extent to which this liquidationism has already proceeded is evident in Barnes’s speech Their Trotsky and Ours. In it he discusses an article by the leader of the Communist Party of El Salvador which Barnes cites as evidence of this party’s evolution from Stalinism to the position of the first four congresses of the Comintern. [60] Barnes also prises as ‘a major Marxist and theoretical contribution’ an article by the Cuban Vice-President, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez. [61] The piece is published in the same SWP(US) publication as Barnes’s speech, and turns out to be a pedestrian work, including traditional Stalinist lies about Trotsky – for example, the claim that he put forward the slogan ‘No Tsar but a workers’ government’ during the revolution of 1905. [62] Mandel is perfectly clear about the liquidationist logic of the SWP(US)’s arguments:

The possibility of a regeneration of the CPs is being raised, albeit (for the moment) only for Central America. But why stop there? What about the CPs of the rest of Latin America? What about those of Africa (the South African ANC, notoriously CP-led, is already projected by some as an emerging ‘revolutionary leadership’)? What about some Arab countries? What about Vietnam? What about Ireland? Are we not slowly evolving towards envisaging the possibility of a regeneration (’democratization) of ruling parties of the bureaucracy in Europe too? [63]

Once the Cubans and their allies have been identified as ‘revolutionary Marxists’, then what is to stop that description being applied to other Communist parties in and out of power? The result, Mandel says, will be to abandon ‘our strategy of antibureaucratic political revolution, in favour of some meek perspective of “gradual democratization” of these states, and worse yet “democratization mainly from above”.’ [64] It is the necessity of political revolution in the ‘bureaucratic workers’ states’ that, as we have already seen, provides the rationale for the USFI building independent organizations in these countries, But, as Jones’s contribution to the debate makes clear, Mandel and his supporters themselves do not believe that a political revolution is necessary in Cuba. Bureaucratic deformations can be removed there peacefully, by reforms – or should we say through a process of ‘gradual democratization’? But if this is true in Cuba, why not in Vietnam and China? It is simply implausible to argue that a consolidated bureaucracy exists in the latter, but not the former. [65] ‘But’, to quote Mandel, ‘why stop there?’ Why rule out ‘a regeneration (“democratization”) of ruling parties of the bureaucracy in Eastern Europe too?’ Why indeed?

The USFI majority’s attempt to refute the SWP(US)’s critique of Trotsky is incapacitated by the theoretical axioms shared by both sides. At the core of the SWP(US)’s degeneration is the notion, fundamental to orthodox Trotskyism and equally shared by both sides, that a workers’ state is defined by state ownership of the means of production.

Mandel comes close to grasping this nettle in discussing the SWP(US)’s concept of a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ co-existing with private capital as a stage distinct from and prior to the dictatorship of the proletariat:

It all began with the present leaders of the Socialist Workers Party’s faulty understanding of the way in which Trotsky and the Fourth International used the criterion of nationalization of the means of production as the basic criterion showing the USSR remained a workers’ state, despite the monstrous bureaucratic dictatorship that held sway there. For Trotsky, that nationalization was the decisive residual element, that is, as he often put it, what survived from the October revolution. But he never dreamed of reducing the conquests of October, and still less the nature of the October revolution to this nationalization alone, and to consider as ‘less important’, or ‘less decisive’, the destruction of the bourgeoisie’s state power and the creation of the new power of the Soviets.

For Trotsky, as for Lenin, as for Engels, as for Marx, what is decisive in a social revolution is the transfer of power from one class to another, and not the instant and complete abolition of a given form of property. [66]

Mandel’s general argument is perfectly correct. For the classical Marxists, what defines the dictatorship of the proletariat is the existence of workers’ councils which have acquired a monopoly of force by arming the masses and dismantling the repressive apparatuses of the capitalist state. Such a state of affairs is quite compatible, during the transition to a classless society, with the existence of widespread private ownership. Both in 1918, and after the introduction of NEP in 1921, Lenin envisaged quite a lengthy period in which private capitalism would co-exist with workers’ power. [67]

As Mandel points out, the SWP(US), by identifying a workers’ state with state ownership rather than with the exercise of political power by the proletariat, made themselves vulnerable to serious political illusions in various ‘left-bourgeois’ Third-World regimes:

This theoretical error is especially serious for revolutionaries in semi-colonial countries, because it can lead them to completely false conclusions on the class nature of certain states that seem, at first sight, to have nationalized the means of production as, or more extensively than the USSR under the NEP, yet remain bourgeois states. This is confirmed by the entire subsequent evolution of Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Syria, the People’s Republic of the Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Yemen. [68]

But Mandel’s whole argument, impeccable though it is, is disastrous to his own position. For nationalization of the means of production is not the ‘decisive residual element’, it is the sole criterion for describing China, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Cuba and Eastern Europe as workers’ states. In none of these countries have workers exercised political power through soviets, nor does any faction of the USFI claim otherwise. If the SWP(US) are mistaken in making ‘a given form of property’ the fundamental feature of the dictatorship of the proletariat, then so is Mandel, and so are all orthodox Trotskyists, in accepting the notion of bureaucratic workers’ states in which the working class do not have political power. Trotsky’s error in treating the ‘metaphysical or juridical fiction’ of state ownership as the ‘decisive residual element’ that made Stalin’s Russia into a workers’ state, is thus clearly exposed. For the consequences of this analysis of Russia are that one would also have to accept as workers’ states such countries as Nasser’s Egypt, post-colonial Congo etc., that no one in the USFI would remotely be prepared to accept as such. The existence of institutions of workers’ power – Soviets etc. – are therefore not at all optional but are the very foundation for all forms of of proletarian dictatorship.

Trotsky or orthodox Trotskyism?

Where does the degeneration of the Fourth International into the SWP(US)’s liquidationism and Mandel’s metaphysics leave Trotsky himself. The question is posed not only by Barnes’s miserable reprise of Stalinism, but, in a far more serious way, from a revolutionary standpoint, by John Molyneux in his recent book Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution. John’s study of Trotsky is altogether superior both politically and intellectually to anything produced by the American SWP. Nevertheless, in his assertion that Trotsky’s thought is flawed by an adherence to the ‘mechanical materialist philosophy’ of the Second International [69], John comes dangerously close to the view (which is, of course, fundamental to the SWP(US)’s rejection of permanent revolution) that Trotsky is a revolutionary thinker whose contributions to Marxism are local and limited. It would be impossible to discuss here John’s arguments at any length. However, it is comparatively easy to point out the falsehood of such remarks as the following: ‘Trotsky’s philosophical position ... at bottom remained deterministic, with traces of a teleological view of history.’ [70] Such a conception of history was indeed characteristic of such Second International Marxists as Kautsky and Plekhanov, for whom the triumph of the proletariat was inevitable. [71] However, especially once he had accepted the centrality of a revolutionary party after February 1917, Trotsky was crystal clear that the victory of the working class was not fated by history, but depended on its organization, confidence and leadership. This comes over again and again in his writings on Germany, China, Spain, and France in the 1920s and 1930s.

It is true that in the very difficult circumstances of his last years, Trotsky did at times succumb to the belief that the victory of the Fourth International was guaranteed by the laws of history. But this had less to do with some ‘mechanical materialist philosophy’ secreted within his thought than with objective circumstances. Mechanical materialism is, indeed, a danger to which any Marxist may at times be vulnerable: Marx was guilty of it on occasion, as John himself has pointed out. [72] The only major Marxist thinker whose political views are arguably flawed by his philosophical beliefs is Gramsci – there seems to me a direct relation between the manifest influence on Gramsci of such idealist philosophers as Bergson and Croce and his tendency to overestimate the importance of ideological factors. [73]

I stress these points because I wish to defend the thesis that to be a revolutionary socialist one must also be a Trotskyist. The fundamental proposition of Marxism is that socialism is the self-emancipation of the working class. With the exception of Lenin, Trotsky, more than any other Marxist since Marx, has pursued the implications of this proposition for revolutionary strategy and tactics.

Essential though Lenin’s contribution was, above all in developing the theory and practice of the revolutionary party, it was made largely in a specifically Russian context. Only in the last years of his life, and in the tumultuous conditions imposed by the task of leading an embattled workers’ republic, did Lenin seek to generalize the lessons of the October revolution. Far more than Lenin, it was Trotsky who systematized these lessons, in the course of his polemics with Stalinism, and his analyses of the class struggle in a dozen or more countries. It is to Trotsky that we turn in order to understand, not merely the nature of revolutions in backward countries, but the tactic of the united front, the defence of bourgeois democracy, the struggle against fascism, the reactionary character of popular fronts, and many other issues of fundamental importance to revolutionaries. Running through all these different issues is the same theme – the self-emancipation of the working class: how to develop the consciousness, confidence and organization of the proletariat, how to avoid its submergence in multi-class alliances?

The clarity and penetration with which Trotsky deals with these questions makes his writings of the 1920s and 1930s a fundamental gain to Marxism. Duncan Hallas has made the point very well: ‘Trotsky’s writings on are a veritable treasure-house. It can be said without any exaggeration that no one else since 1923 has produced work that even approaches their profundity and brilliance, They are, literally, indispensable to revolutionaries today.’ [74] Nothing could be more symptomatic of the SWP(US)’s degeneration than their treatment of Trotsky as a junior member of Lenin’s ‘team’, of equal standing to a cowardly hack like Zinoviev.

However, the Trotskyism to which any revolutionary Marxist must be committed does not imply uncritical adhesion to every item of Trotsky’s thought. Such dogmatism is the defining characteristic of various factions of orthodox Trotskyism. As I have already stressed, Trotsky’s analysis of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state represented a serious deviation from Marxism, though mitigated by his belief that such a contradictory phenomenon as Stalin’s Russia was too unstable to survive more than a few years. [75] Yet this analysis is the founding dogma of orthodox Trotskyism, and has been extended to apply to societies inhabited by a third of the human race.

The political consequence is, in effect, that socialism is no longer the self-emancipation of the working class. Proletarian revolutions have apparently occurred without the proletariat taking any active part. It matters little whether we call the makers of these revolutions ‘revolutionary Marxists’ or ‘pragmatic revolutionaries’ or even ‘Stalinists’. If they can achieve socialism from above without workers’ councils taking power, then Marxism is a dead letter.

Skilful though Ernest Mandel’s intellectual balancing act is, it cannot conceal this simple fact. Behind all the theoretical disagreements there is a stark choice: orientation on workers’ struggles or on non-proletarian ‘anti-imperialist forces’. This is no abstract issue, but one daily practice. It was already posed very clearly in Trotsky’s own time, both in his polemics with the Stalinists and even during the debates within the Fourth International itself. During a discussion in 1937 following the Japanese invasion Trotsky criticized the proposal by his Chinese followers to launch a broad anti-Japanese front of national salvation:

Such an attitude has its pitfalls: it can become dangerous. In the thesis I find little about trade-union work: the necessity to organize them in order to spread trade-union propaganda and in order to give leadership when a strike breaks out. That I believe is a thousand times more important than to create or to discuss the creation of National Salvation organizations ... We should not begin by building anti-Japanese organizations – (naturally we are for the independence of China); but we must realize that the most important task is in the trade-union movement ... All our energies must be concentrated in the strike movement. [76]

That is the Trotsky whom the American SWP want to dump – the ‘ultra-left’, ‘sectarian’, ‘workerist’ Trotsky for whom strikes were ‘a thousand times more important’ than broad anti-imperialist fronts. Rejection of permanent revolution in favour of such fronts means, as Trotsky predicted it would, supporting the ‘workers’ and peasants’ governments’ to which these fronts give rise against the workers. Steve Clark of the SWP(US) admits that such a government ‘is based on the class interests of the toilers, while it must defend the preservation of capitalist property relations in sectors of the economy,’ Clark hints at what ‘defending capitalist property’ may mean when he admits that ‘the workers and farmers themselves take initiatives. Sometimes they may be premature.’ [77] The implication is that ‘proletarian revolutionists’ should support ‘workers’ and peasants’ governments’ when they suppress such ‘premature’ initiatives, as both Nicaraguan and Grenadan regimes have done in attacking strikes and trade-union organizations. [78]

We therefore owe a debt to the American SWP. They have brought out into the light of day what was always implicit in orthodox Trotskyism – its denial that the proletariat is the agency of revolutionary change. From now on it is clear that the only genuine Trotskyists are those who reject the dogmas of orthodox Trotskyism in order to preserve the revolutionary essence of Trotsky’s thought, the self-emancipation of the working class.


1. L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism (New York 1973), pp. 103ff.

2. See T. Cliff, The Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism – a Critique, in Neither Washington nor Moscow (London 1982). The transition from Trotskyism via Shachtmanism to left-liberal support of Nato is well conveyed in I. Howe, A Margin of Hope (New York 1982).

3. US law prevents the American SWP from formally adhering to the Fourth International. Throughout this article references to the ‘Fourth International’ are to the Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) and its affiliates.

4. See F. Dobbs, Teamster Rebellion (New York 1972).

5. J. Barnes, Their Trotsky and Ours: Communist Continuity Today, New International 1:1 (1983). The speech had already acquired considerable currency in bootlegged forms before appearing in this new SWP journal. The editors claim that these versions distorted the original – for example, renderings of one passage (strangely not included in the official text) in pirated versions made Barnes out to be an anti-semite.

6. Ibid., p. 13.

7. Ibid., p. 10.

8. S. Clark, A Workers’ and Farmers’ Government with a Revolutionary Proletarian Leadership (New York 1980), p. 6.

9. See P. Binns and M. Gonzalez, Cuba, Castro and Socialism, IS 2:8 (1980), R. Blackburn, Class Forces in the Cuban Revolution, IS 2:9 (1980), P. Binns, A. Callinicos, M. Gonzalez, Cuba, Socialism and the Third World, IS 2:10 (1980/81), M. Gonzalez, The Nicaraguan Revolution, IS 2:17 (1982).

10. M.-A. Waters, Proletariat Leadership in Power: What We Can Learn from Lenin, Castro, and the FSLN (New York 1980), p. 5.

11. See especially L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (New York 1972).

12. See D. Hallas, The Fourth International in Decline, IS 60 (1973).

13. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow, 1965), xxxii, p. 48.

14. L. Seigle, Cuba and the Castro Leadership, in Revolutionary Cuba Today: The Record of a Discussion (New York 1980), p. 42.

15. Ibid., p. 37.

16. Ibid., p. 42.

17. J. Barnes, Marxism and the Class Struggle, in Waters, p. 27.

18. Revolutionary Cuba Today, passim.

19. D. Frankel and L. Seigle, The Revolutionary Character of the Castro Leadership, Ibid., p. 81.

20. See T. Cliff, Trotsky on Substitutionism, in Neither Washington Nor Moscow.

21. I have discussed other examples of such ‘ideologism’ in Maoism, Stalinism and the Soviet Union, IS 2:5 (1979), and Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution and its Relevance to the Third World Today, IS 2:16 (1982) pp. 105–6.

22. Barnes, Marxism and the Class Struggle, pp. 30–1.

23. Barnes, Their Trotsky and Ours, p. 77.

24. Ibid., p. 69.

25. Ibid., pp. 69–70,

26. Seigle, pp. 25–6.

27. Waters, p. 8.

28. Clark, p. 12.

29. Barnes, Their Trotsky and Ours, p. 35.

30. Ibid., p. 68.

31. For example, L. Trotsky, 1905 (Harmondsworth 1973), especially pp. 314–33. Trotsky did sometimes in the 1930s use the slogan ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’, but only as a synonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat, which in a backward country could only come to power with the support of the peasantry. Thus he referred in 1937 to ‘the genuine worker-peasant government, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat, leading behind it millions of peasants’, Leon Trotsky on China (New York 1976) p. 565. See also, for example, L. Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931–39) (New York 1973), p. 121, and Documents of the Fourth International (New York 1973), pp. 201–3.

32. Barnes, Their Trotsky and Ours, pp. 36–41.

33. See M. Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development (London 1981), ch. 3, and my review of this book, Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, pp. 100–101.

34. See especially E. Mandel, In Defence of the Permanent Revolution, International Viewpoint 32, 13 June 1983.

35. Barnes, Their Trotsky and Ours, p. 49.

36. Ibid., p. 10.

37. Ibid., p. 73.

38. Ibid., p. 43.

39. See T. Cliff, Marxism and the Collectivization of Agriculture (London 1979).

40. See especially, the exchanges between Doug Jenness and Ernest Mandel in Militant/International Socialist Review, November 1981, April 1982, and June 1982, and Mandel, In Defence of the Permanent Revolution. Other orthodox Trotskyists have made similar criticisms: see, for example, Trotskyist International Liaison Committee, Trotskyism or Castroism? (London 1982).

41. For details, see Hallas, The Fourth International in Decline.

42. Intercontinental Press, vol. 14 no. 3, January 26th 1976, p. 90.

43. See A. Callinicos and P. Goodwin, On the Perspectives of the Fourth International, IS 2:6 (1979), and J. Fournier, The Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire and the Mitterrand Government, IS 2:21 (1983).

44. For a review of this debate, see P. Goodwin, “Razor-Sharp Factional Minds”, IS 2:5 (1979). In retrospect the argument was probably important chiefly because it saw the SWP(US) distinguish between the installation of a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ in South Vietnam (after the fall of Saigon), and the creation of a ‘deformed workers’ state’ (following the nationalizations of spring 1978). It was also one of the first times that the SWP adopted a much more uncritical line towards a Stalinist regime than the rest of the USFI.

45. Seigle, p. 43.

46. Mandel, p. 20.

47. See D. Hallas, Trotsky’s Marxism (London 1979) ch. 2, and J. Molyneux, Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution (Brighton 1981) ch. 4.

48. See, on Trotsky’s ‘politics of prediction’, Molyneux, pp. 182–5.

49. T. Cliff, Permanent Revolution (London 1983), reprint of an article first published in IS 12 (1963).

50. See Callinicos, Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, pp. 108–11.

51. Documents, p. 214.

52. See Hallas, The Fourth International in Decline.

53. The Dynamics of World Revolution Today (New York 1970).

54. Mandel, p. 17.

55. A. Jones, The Character of the Cuban Leadership, in Revolutionary Cuba Today, p. 60.

56. Ibid., p. 62.

57. Ibid., p. 64.

58. See Hallas, Trotsky’s Marxism, pp. 32–41.

59. Frankel and Seigle, p. 81.

60. Barnes, Their Trotsky and Ours, pp. 18–24.

61. Ibid., p. 25.

62. C. Rodriguez, Lenin and the Colonial Question, New International 1:1 (1983), p. 142.

63. Mandel, p. 20.

64. Ibid., pp. 18–19.

65. See Binns and Gonzalez, and P. Binns, “Popular Power” in Cuba, IS 2:21 (1983).

66. Mandel, p. 16.

67. See T. Cliff, Lenin (4 vols., London, 1975–9), iii, chs. 5–7, and iv, ch. 9, and P. Binns and D. Hallas, The Soviet Union – State Capitalist or Socialist?, IS 90 (1976).

68. Mandel, p. 17. Incidentally, Mandel is quite wrong to suppose that extensive nationalization has taken place in Zimbabwe since independence.

69. For example, Molyneux, pp. 10–14, 195–7.

70. Ibid., p. 196,

71. See A. Callinicos, Marxism and Philosophy (Oxford 1983), pp. 61–70.

72. See A. Callinicos, Is There a future for Marxism? (London 1982), pp. 134–41, and J. Molyneux, Marxism and the Party (London 1978), ch. 1.

73. On Gramsci’s tendency to overestimate the weight of ideology see C. Harman, Gramsci or Refomism (London 1983), and p. Anderson, The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, New Left Review 100 (1976/7).

74. Hallas, Trotsky’s Marxism, p. 75.

75. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, 6, pp. 13–l4.

76. Trotsky on China, pp. 555–6.

77. Clark. p. 12.

78. See Gonzalez, pp. 69–79, and D. O’Grady and C. Sparks, Paradise Lost?, Socialist Review 59, November 1983.

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