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Maurice Spector

Biography and Revolutionary Struggle

(May 1930)

Books For Workers, The Militant, Vol. III No. 20, 17 May 1930, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The struggle of the factions in the Comintern is in the last analysis a struggle of the classes. Once more the revolutionary Marxists are a persecuted and calumniated minority in the International they founded and Bolshevism an upstream current in the revolution it created. This turn of events can only deter those who fail to understand the dialectic process. History obstinately refuses to flow in the smooth and unruffled channels marked out for it by Fabian doctrinaires of “gradualism”. Only in the brain of a Bucharin is it possible to “abstract” the Soviet Union from the development of world economy and the correlation of class forces.

Two Phases of the October Revolution

The October Revolution falls into two phases separated by the death of Lenin. The first was the stage of the conquest of political power and the military and economic consolidation of the proletarian dictatorship through the instrumentality of the conscious Communist vanguard. The second phase is marked by the growth of the elements of dual power, the economic advances of the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie the subjection of the Party to the bureaucracy, the replacement of the line of Communism by Centrism.

To screen their back-sliding the Party bureaucrats had resort to the invention and campaign against “Trotskyism”. Lenin who was safely embalmed in a mausoleum could be disregarded by the bureaucrats but Trotsky remained as the living symbol of the heroic phase of October. To destroy his immense revolutionary authority therefore became the bureaucrats’ prime concern. To this end history and biography were monstrously perverted. An English critic’s definition of history as a “Mississippi of falsehoods” was never more fully merited than by the conscienceless fabrications of the school of Stalin.

The powerful sweep of L.D. Trotsky’s Autobiography leaves the whole tissue of fraud and misrepresentations woven by the official theoreticians in shreds and tatters. In the light of this memorable work how pitiful even to his own faction must appear the scurrilities with which a Yaroslavsky like the Fat Boy in Dickens, seeks to make our flesh creep. The motley careers of those who sat in judgement on the Opposition, wearing the saintly aureole of the “Old Guard” are here passed in merciless review. Concurrently the organizer of the Red Army sets out the course of the development which led to his complete fusion of goal and method with Lenin in the supreme crisis of October. The biographical test, Trotsky once declared to an Opposition-baiting plenum is not decisive. Bernstein who was the literary executor of Engels wound up as a rabid revisionist. Franz Mehring who approached Marx in a critical spirit ended in the camp of Spartacus. But if biography is indeed to be treated as the criterion, then let us have exact biography not of Trotsky alone but of all concerned.

The owl of Minerva, that bird of wisdom, takes flight when the dusk gathers, runs a familiar saying of Hegel. The temporary cloud on the October Revolution is the last thing any of us desired but the facts being what they are, the theoretical and political contributions of Trotsky, since his struggle with the epigones began, are of inestimable service in the education of a whole generation of younger Marxists. Historical Materialism is no philosophy of blind impersonal forces. In reply to the criticism of the Gotha program, the older Liebknecht declared that Marx stood high in his esteem but “the party stands higher”. This is the veriest fetishism, creating an entirely false antithesis between party and principle, between organization and leadership. The choice of leaders is as inescapable today as when it had to be made between Marx and Bakunin, between Lenin and Plechanov, between Rosa Luxemburg and Kautsky. The Autobiography before us perfectly fulfills the requirements of Lassalle’s dictum that the beginning and end of all great political action lies in the statement of that which is. Trotsky is the heir to the revolutionary legacy of Marx and Lenin.

Bolshevism did not spring fully grown and accoutred like Pallas Athene from the head of Jove in the Greek fable.

“Russia.” wrote Lenin, “has attained Marxism ... by dint of fifty years travail and sacrifice ... Thanks to the emigration forced by the Czar, revolutionary Russia in the second half of the 19th century came into possession of rich international connections, of the grasp of superlative forms and theories of the revolutionary movements abroad as no other country had ...”

The road of Bolshevism runs through the struggle with the populist Narodniki, syndicalist “economism”, ultra-Left “otsovism”, and Menshevik and ‘conciliatory’ opportunism”. But not the least of the obstacles it had to clear cut of its path was the conservatism of the “old Bolsheviks” who more than once, declared Lenin, have played a melancholy role in the history of our Party by repeating senseless and obsolete formulae.

These preliminary struggles of Bolshevism have significance only as they serve to prepare the Party for the conquest of political power. Not one of the epigones who called themselves the “Old Guard” measured up to the demands of the great October ordeal. Not one had advanced beyond the position of a Left democrat prior to the arrival of Lenin and his April Theses. The slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry as Lenin conceived it bore two aspects, one that looked to the past and the other to the future. The epigones only saw the past of this slogan. They were prepared for no more than bourgeois revolution, that is Russia a free market, no repudiation of foreign debts, no assistance to the international proletarian revolution, no nationalisation of the means of production.

If according to Lenin the role of Zinoviev and Kamenev was no accident, neither could it be an accident that from the distance of New York, Trotsky reached the same conclusions regarding the revolutionary motive forces as Lenin in Switzerland. On March 19, 1917 Trotsky wrote from America: “In this struggle the proletariat ought to unite about itself the rising masses of the people with one aim in view – to seize governmental power.” And three days later: “If the first Russian Revolution in 1905 brought about the revolutions in Asia, in Persia, Turkey, China, the second Russian revolution will be the beginning of powerful revolutionary struggle in Europe ...” Trotsky found himself in absolute accord with the April theses. He had remained outside the Bolshevik faction because he feared a tendency would develop within it to limit the revolution to democratic objectives. Fortunately the line of Lenin and the elan of the masses proved stronger than the democratic Right wing which did indeed crystallize. History fused the theory which is anathema to all bureaucrats – the permanent revolution – with the fundamental strategy of Leninism.

The Usurpation by the Bureaucrat

The crisis in the International begins with the usurpation of power by the bureaucrats. The struggle to put an end to the alternative zig-zags of opportunism and adventurism is inextricably linked up with the struggle for a correct Party regime. The base of the leadership in the Soviet Union has become more dangerously narrowed. When Marx characterized Bakunin he anticipated Lenin’s characterization of Stalin. Marx wrote: ”Theoretically he is a cipher but as a schemer he is in his element.” To leave a disloyal figure like Stalin at the helm is, as experiences amply demonstrate, to court disaster for the revolution. The Party regimes in the various sections of the Comintern have been made over in his image – a bureaucracy tempered only by fear of the Opposition.

If the policy of the Comintern officialdom in the period of the British General Strike and the Chinese Revolution was a tragedy, that of the so-called “Third Period” has the elements of a tragic farce. What must be done? We recall that there was another “third period” away back in 1902, when Lenin was fighting one who is a present theoretician of Stalinism, namely Martinov. To the question, what must we do, Lenin wrote: “We must give the brief reply: ‘LIQUIDATE THE THIRD PERIOD’.” (N. Lenin, 1902 – Que Faire – Paris 1925) And we must add, liquidate the ascendancy of the epigones, purge the program of the Comintern of national Socialism, and restore the Bolshevik-Leninist Opposition to its rightful position in the Party.

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Last updated: 27 February 2020