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Books in Review

A Valuable Compilation

(Spring 1957)

From The New International, Vol. XXIII No. 2, Spring 1957, pp. 111–115.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ecrits 1928–1940, Volume 1
by Leon Trotsky. Edited by Pierre Frank
369 pp, Marcel Rivière, Paris, 1955.

It is not often that the followers of Pablo in the Fourth International do something useful; the publication, under the editorship of Pierre Frank, of the first volume of Trotsky’s collected writings, from the period of his third exile to his death, is one of these rare surprises.

This edition of Trotsky’s collected works is not planned to be a definitive historical and critical edition, but a popular edition, designed not for scholars primarily but for a broader circle of readers in the labor movement. For this reason, it will not include the major works of this period which are for the most part easily available, at least in French (thus the History of the Russian Revolution, which was published by the Editions du Seuil in 1950 in two volumes [1], My Life, which was re-published by Gallimard late in 1954 with excellent commentaries by Rosmer [2], The Revolution Betrayed, which is fairly easily available second-hand, etc.). For the same reason, instead they have been gathered under broad headings, each related to a particular question or situation.

The present volume contains over thirty articles and documents written between 1929 and 1932; most of them were published in the Bulletin of the Opposition during 1929. The articles collected in the first chapters (Exile; Economic Problems of the Soviet Union; Socialism in One Country or Permanent Revolution; the Struggle of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the USSR) are mainly concerned with the internal problems of the Soviet Union. They explain the background of the Left Opposition’s struggle against the rising Stalinist counter-revolution between 1923 and 1928; some are critical studies of the first five years’ plan, of the agrarian policy of Stalin- Bukharin and of the relations between peasantry, working-class and party. The discussion of “socialism in one country” versus permanent revolution has been published in English as a preface to the American edition of the Permanent Revolution; it is followed by several articles and letters concerning the struggle of the Left Opposition in Russia.

The articles in the last chapters concern questions of international policy: the defense of the USSR in connection with the Chinese claims on the Manchurian railroad, the relations between Europe and America and the questions of European federation, the crisis in Austria and the policy of Austrian social-democracy, organizational and political problems of the International Left Opposition.

Trotsky’s articles dealing with the “third period” policy of the Communist International have not been included in this volume, excepting two on its application in China. The editor announced that most of them will be included in the second volume, in particular those concerning the political situation in France, Spain and Germany.

There are biographical notes – insufficient in many cases – and an index of names.

MANY OF THE WRITINGS in the present volume are striking in their timeliness. The articles on Austria and on the United States of Europe, for example, could have been written for today. The articles on the situation in Russia are timely in another way: they explain the genesis of the Stalinist bureaucratic regime, remaining true to the reactionary social force which it represents, in spite of the sudden changes in its policy and its “tone.” They also show the firm, principled basis of the Left Opposition’s struggle:

One must be politically light-minded to believe that the question is resolved ... because, instead of the old five years’ plan directed against “Trotskyism and the super-industrializers,” the same functionaries have now established a new five years’ plan based on the previously condemned principles of “super-industrialization” and directed, for the time being, against the right-wingers. We have so far always considered that all five years’ plans have a value only insofar as they are rooted in correct methods of directing the economy, and especially in a correct policy of the party and of the Communist International. What is therefore decisive for a Marxist is the principled basis of the party, and the political methods of the party, not the “concrete figures of the five years’ plan,” the fate of which still belongs entirely to the future.

In his polemics against the capitulators, Trotsky showed that the struggle of the Left Opposition had to be aimed at the power and at the very existence of the bureaucracy, not at one or the other of the latter’s policies. This political and social content of Trotskyism could only become clearer during Trotsky’s lifetime, as the bureaucracy consolidated itself as a ruling class.

The mistaken appraisal by Trotsky of the nature of the bureaucracy and of its long-range perspectives (much less excusable in his present-day “orthodox” followers) has been frequently used to obscure this fundamental meaning of his struggle, particularly by the Pablo-Deutscher school which has made this its specialty.

Thus, in a deplorable passage of the introduction to this volume, Pierre Frank explains how Mao Tse-tung has been recruited, if not yet to the Fourth International, then at least to the Pabloite ideology. It seems that Mao Tse-Tung is now applying the theory of the permanent revolution in China; Pierre Frank notes that no finer birthday-present for the 50th birthday of this theory could be imagined. The Chinese Stalinist regime, which had first proclaimed its intention to establish a regime of “new democracy,” and to proceed only later to the stage of a “socialist revolution,” has been forced, within five years of this statement, to engage in the “construction of socialism.”

The content of these terms, of course, is completely unrelated to the policies that were discussed in the communist movement in the 1920’s: the frame of reference of the regime is not that of the socialist movement, nor even that of the Stalinist movement in its beginnings. What subsists of the Marxist vocabulary in the jargon of the Chinese Stalinists, is a terminological cloak for two aspects of a policy inspired by class-interests deeply foreign and hostile to those of both working-class and peasantry.

Yet the crude, formalistic exploitation of this terminological confusion enables Pierre Frank to cover his capitulation to Stalinism by representing Mao Tse-tung as an involuntary Pabloite. If you can’t beat them, join them; if they won’t let you, pretend it’s them who are joining you.

In recent months, American policy as well as the Stalinist regime have entered a crisis. The “thaw” of the rival military and political blocs has provided the independent working-class movement with breathing-space; time has been gained, and the prospects for a reconstruction of the revolutionary movement look more favorable than they have for years.

Yet, at the same time, terminological sleight of hands based on formalistic analogies, political disorientation, confusion of all sorts, come fully into their own. While Mao Tse-tung becomes a Pabloite, Khrushchev becomes a Titoist and the Cominform is once more dissolved, while well-intentioned comrades (of the New Left among others) prepare to slaughter the fattened calf, urging us to forgive and forget.

More than ever, it is necessary to keep a clear political line, not to confuse general trends of social evolution with changes in policy, and not to lose sight of the aim of our struggle. In this, the example of Trotsky’s political thinking is no doubt one of the firmest and clearest. In a period of shifting policies, sudden “switches” and ideological confusion, let us remember that “the revolutionary party is the memory of the working-class. To learn not to forget the past in order to foresee the future, this is our first and most important task.”

* * *


1. Leon Trotsky, Histoire de la Révolution Russe, Vol. 1: Fevrier, 448 pp., Price: 600,– ffrs.; Vol. 2: Octobre, 640 pp., Price: 900,– ffrs. Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1950.

2. Leon Trotsky, Ma vie, Preface and appendix by A. Rosmer. 655 pp., Gallimard, 1954, Price; l,200.– ffrs.

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