Denzil Dean Harber


Clare Market Review , Michaelmas Term 1933, pp.14-15, (2,366 words)

Up to about a year ago this was not a word that one met in the British working-class movement. Trotsky himself was, of course, well known—everyone had heard of the second greatest leader of the Russian Revolution, the man who had helped to build up the Workers’ State side by side with Lenin, and who was disgraced after Lenin’s death. Many left socialists (mostly those outside the Communist Party) had even read Trotsky’s own version of events in his Life and had been left with an uneasy conviction that all was not well; but all felt certain that finis had been written to a great career.

Yet, from about the middle of 1932, it gradually became known that people calling themselves “Trotskyists” actually existed in England. The first to observe this were the members of certain Communist locals (mostly in South London). The matter was brought to their notice by propaganda, purporting to come from members of their own party and advocating a policy for the Communist Party of Germany which seemed, at first sight, not only reasonable, but in accordance with every principle of Leninism; but which took on a most sinister and counter-revolutionary appearance once it was learned that it emanated from “Trotskyist” sources. Next, the matter was brought to the attention of the whole membership of the Communist Party by a series of expulsions from that party for “Trotskyism” of old and trusted members of the party, workers who had rendered it great services.

Today, it has become clear to all concerned in the working-class movement of this country that “Trotskyism” whatever it may be, has come to stay. As is natural in the case of a relatively young movement, its forces are as yet small, but its vigour cannot be denied. In the Communist Party, expulsions for “Trotskyism” still continue. In the other left party, the Independent Labour Party, the effect of “Trotskyist” ideas has been such that Comrade Campbell of the C.P., recently declared that, “The differences (between the I.L.P. and the C.P.) are not in the historical objections, nor in the last few months’ differences, but in a series of new objections not rooted in the rank and file experiences of the I.L.P., but in the Trotskyist sewer.” Which, put in simpler if less picturesque language, means that the “Trotskyists” are preventing the C.P. from absorbing the I.L.P.

What then is this “Trotskyism”? A “Trotskyist” will reply that “Trotskyism” differs from Stalinism (i.e.. the basis of the present policies of the Communist International), only by the fact that it is Marxism and Leninism cleared of all the rubbish that has been heaped upon them in recent years. This answer is hardly likely to bring conviction to one who has been brought up on the material issued by the Communist International under its present leadership. It can, nevertheless, be proved by comparison between the works of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. As this is a somewhat burdensome task, and one which seems at first sight to be even more burdensome than it really is, few convinced Stalinists undertake it: especially as the whole essence of Stalinism is calculated to discourage any critical activity whatsoever. The object of this article is to convince all those interested in revolutionary working-class politics that this is a task which stands before every conscious revolutionary at the present time, and one which is vitally bound up with the whole future of the proletarian movement.

It is of course impossible, in the space available here, to expose even a small fraction of the distortions of communist theory and of historical truth which have been perpetrated by Stalin and his school during the last ten years. What can be done is to give some idea as to how these distortions arose, why they received official sanction, and how they have affected and are affecting the workers’ movement in every country in the world.

Marxist theory has long known the term “centrism.” In the working-class movement Marxism serves as the theory and the guide to action of the fully class-conscious section of the proletariat. Under capitalism, however, not all the proletariat is fully class-conscious. Imperialism, and the consequent intensified exploitation of the proletariat in other lands, enables the ruling class to “bribe” large sections of the working class at home. These “bribed” sections of the working class constitute the social basis of reformism. With the intensification of the contradictions inherent in the capitalist system during the last period of imperialism it becomes less and less easy for the capitalists to maintain this system of “bribing.” As a consequence, the condition of these “bribed” workers gradually worsens, and they tend more and more to abandon the reformist for the Marxist position. During the period when they have left the one but not yet fully arrived at the other, they are said to occupy a “centrist” position. This position expresses itself politically by a series of zigzags, now to the right towards reformism now to the left towards Marxism. At certain periods of crisis centrism has played an important part in the working-class movement. But under capitalism, centrism can only be a passing phenomenon, since its social base is not a stable one.

In the U.S.S.R., however, the situation is different. After the end of the civil war and the “heroic” period of the Russian Revolution, a spirit of tiredness, verging upon political apathy, spread over the Russian working class. Years of exhausting effort had passed and yet they were still far from the promised goal. It was but natural that the mass movement should die down after such an upheaval. If the internal situation was thus discouraging, the external situation was still more so. The revolution in other leading countries, expected by all communists, had not come, and after 1923 the temporary stabilisation of capitalism became even more obvious. But during the very period when the watchfulness of the working class of the Soviet Union was relaxed, new dangers were growing up even within its own State. A huge bureaucracy had existed in Russia before the Revolution, and much of it had had to be kept, in order to maintain the machinery of government, trade and industry. In theory this bureaucracy was controlled by the workers through the Communist Party, but the upper layers of the Communist Party itself, became increasingly bureaucratic and tended to merge more and more with the old bureaucrats, and with the new capitalists who sprang from the New Economic Policy—the Nepman and the Kulak. Thus the tiredness and disillusionment of the Russian working class were mirrored in its leadership. The loss of faith in the world revolution was reflected in the un-Leninist theory of “socialism in one country”; the passivity before internal difficulties, in the retreat before the rich peasant and the small trader. In other words, the leadership of the C.P.S.U. abandoned its Marxist position and became submerged in a bureaucracy whose interests were naturally not those of the workers. Under capitalism, a move of this nature would have terminated in the wholehearted support of capitalism (reformism). In the Soviet Union, however, the conditions are different. True, the Soviet bureaucracy has interests of its own quite distinct from and opposed to those of the working class. But, on the other hand, its own existence is inextricably bound up with the maintenance of the Soviet State. A return to capitalism would mean its own destruction. Hence, its position must be described as centrist. But, whereas in the capitalist world, centrism cannot be a permanent phenomenon owing to the absence of a stable social base, in the Soviet Union such a base exists in the bureaucracy. In other words, bureaucratic centrism, which can only arise in a workers’ state, may remain stable over a long period of years. In its policy of zigzags it resembles the centrism of the capitalist world. Thus, in its internal policy, bureaucratic centrism encouraged for a time the growth of capitalist elements in industry and agriculture. When, in 1928, it suddenly realised how the growth of these elements had imperilled its own position, it performed an abrupt about turn and, going from the right to the extreme left, began extirpating all capitalist elements. Exactly the same can be observed internationally in the policy of the Communist International. Centred in Moscow, and with all its national sections dependent upon Soviet subsidies, the Comintern has remained in the hands of the leaders of the bureaucratised Communist Party of the Soviet Union, whose revolutionary theory has degenerated hand in hand with the decay of their revolutionary practice. This has had disastrous effects upon the international communist movement. Two examples will be sufficient to illustrate this.

In China, the period 1925-7 was marked by a revolutionary upsurge. The Communist Pare of China had the opportunity of attaining the leadership of this movement, and directing it towards the setting up of the workers’ state. In actual fact, however, the Communist Part of China, acting under instructions from the Communist International, pursued a policy which, allowing for the different circumstances, was identical with that carried out by the Mensheviks before and during the Russian Revolution. The Communist Party of China remained within the bourgeois nationalist party—the Kuomintang. It did not try to head the mass movement against the landlords and the capitalists by coming forward with its own independent programme, and its own press, but, on the contrary, was so afraid of its bourgeois allies being frightened away by this mass movement that, in true Menshevik tradition, it did all it could to prevent the spread of strikes and agrarian “disorders.” When the right wing of the Chinese liberal bourgeoisie under Chang Kai Shek betrayed the revolution and shot down the workers and peasants, the Comintern merely transferred its trust to the “left” Wuhan Government. When this fell, and the revolutionary wave subsided throughout China, the Comintern declared that the revolutionary movement had reached a “higher plane” and armed insurrection was declared to be the order of the day. The usual centrist zigzagging policy followed. Menshevism was replaced by ultra-leftism, and the Canton Uprising, led by a “Soviet” bureaucratically appointed for the occasion, caused a still further weakening of the forces of the Chinese workers and peasants. Putschism having failed, and the proletarian mass movement having subsided, the Comintern has since 1928 concentrated all its energy on the peasantry. “Partisan” bands of revolutionary peasantry have been labelled “Chinese Soviets,” and much is made of “Soviet areas” in the interior of China. But so far as the towns and industrial workers are concerned (and without these there can be no Soviet power in China) the Communist movement in China can hardly be said to exist to-day.

A more recent and a nearer example of the consequences of the present policies of the Comintern may be seen in Germany. Over a period of years we had there the spectacle of a strong Communist Party faced by a much stronger Social Democratic Party and a rapidly growing Fascist party. It was quite obvious to everyone (except the leaders of the C.P.G. and the Comintern) that the Communist Party could not repel Fascism unaided. For this some form of alliance with Social Democracy was needed. During the Russian Revolution a somewhat similar situation arose. In September 1917, the reactionary general Kornilov, supported by the capitalist and the landlords, threatened to seize power and to crush the workers’ movement. He was defeated by the Bolsheviks (who were then in a minority) uniting with the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, both of which parties had already betrayed and were still betraying the Revolution in other directions, upon the specific issue of maintaining the status quo. Thus, the October revolution was insured.

Why was it not possible to apply similar tactics in Germany? Because some years before Comrade Stalin, “the leader of the international working class,” had made a speech in which he had said, in his muddled way, that Fascism and Social Democracy both being supports of capitalism. Social Democracy could only be regarded as the moderate wing of Fascism, and should hence be called “Social-Fascism.” Other, even greater, nonsense followed. Comrade Stalin discovered that “Fascism and Social-Fascism are not opposites, but twins,” and that “Fascism cannot rule without the support of Social-Fascism and vice versa.” As a result the unfortunate Communist Party of Germany was forced to fight Fascism all on its own. Moreover, it was considered by its leaders that the fight against Fascism was really less important than the fight against Social Fascism, since Fascism proper was declining, owing to the correct policy of the Communist Party. Hence, arose actual alliances with Fascism, e.g. the “Red” (actually Fascist) Referendum of 1931 and the Berlin transport workers’ strike.

The results of this policy are now sufficiently well known. Nor were the typically centrist zigzags wanting. After the coming to power of Hitler (i.e., when it was already too late), the Comintern not only offered the “Social-Fascists” a United Front, but agreed to abstain from criticism for the duration of this agreement. As in China, it is of course denied by the Comintern that the working-class movement has suffered any setback in Germany. It has merely risen to a higher plane, and is rapidly progressing towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. The proof? One can say “the C.P. of Germany is carrying out such and such activities, and its press has a circulation of such and such; but, of course, it is all illegal, and that’s why it does not appear on the surface.” And communists outside Germany actually believe that the C.P.G. has been strengthened, not weakened, by the coming to power of Hitler.

It remains to be added that in both these cases, as in all others, the mistakes of its leadership were exposed at the time by the “Trotskyists” who put forward the correct Leninist policy, which, if applied when offered, would have saved the situation in each case. We would urge those of our readers who are interested to verify this for themselves; on such an examination the Trotskyist case rests. D.D. HARBER.

Last updated: 18 February 2009