Reply by supporters of the Marxist Bulletin and the International Bolshevik Tendency to Mark Fischer's 'Frozen in Dogma'

Lenin's Heir

We have recently received a document from the CPGB presenting some views on Trotskyism and asking for a response. While we do not think this is a subject that can be adequately covered in a short exchange, we would like to make a few essential points in defence of Trotskyism.

You suggest that, unlike Lenin, "Trotsky's contribution to the revolutionary workers' movement did not constitute a qualitative development of the theoretical categories of Marxism." However, it is not clear what "theoretical categories" of Marxism you mean, and what contributions to their development you ascribe to Lenin. In our view, Lenin's most important political contribution to the Marxist tradition was on the Party question - rejecting the social democratic notion of a party of the whole class in favour of a disciplined, democratic-centralised combat party composed of only the most advanced workers. Some of Lenin's other important contributions are his analysis of the nature of the imperialist epoch, his programme for addressing the national question, his development of the tactics of the united front, and his recognition of the importance of the proletarian vanguard championing the interests of the specially oppressed.

Trotsky was Lenin's continuator on all these questions--not merely in the abstract but in politically combating the revisionism of the bureaucratised CPSU led by JV Stalin. In addressing the central political questions that arose in the 1920s and 30s, Trotsky certainly extended and deepened Lenin's programme "according to its own logical laws of development". The Trotskyists upheld the internationalist traditions of Marx and Lenin against the narrow Russian nationalism of 'socialism in one country'. Against the criminal sectarianism of the Stalinised Comintern's denunciations of social democrats and other members of the workers' movement as 'social fascists', the Left Opposition advocated the creation of a united front to smash the Nazis, modelled on the Bolshevik Party's united front with Kerensky to defeat Kornilov in 1917.

In China, Trotsky counterposed a policy of working class political independence to the Comintern leadership's disastrous policy of capitulation to the 'anti-imperialist' bourgeoisie. The Trotskyists opposed the Comintern's turn to the popular front (i.e. overt class collaboration) in the mid-1930s. The Comintern's popular front policy in Spain succeeded only in beheading the Spanish revolution and directly resulted in Franco's victory. During World War II in the 'democratic' imperialist countries, the cadres of the Fourth International upheld the Leninist position that 'the main enemy is at home', while the Stalinists poisoned the workers with social-patriotism.

Trotsky brilliantly analysed the social roots of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. He located the profound contradiction embedded in the degenerated Soviet workers' state between the proletarian property forms and the political monopoly of the parasitic caste headed by Stalin. Trotsky's prediction--that if the Soviet workers did not rise in a proletarian political revolution to overthrow the Kremlin oligarchy, the Soviet Union would ultimately succumb to capitalist restoration - has (unfortunately) been fully vindicated by history.

The designation 'Trotskyism' is important precisely to distinguish Bolshevism from Stalinism--the ideology of the gravediggers of revolution. But one cannot counterpose Leninism to Trotskyism, any more than one can counterpose Marxism to Leninism. Of course Marx, Lenin, Trotsky (and countless others) addressed different questions and made distinctive contributions, but they are all contributors to the development of humanity's 'positive self-consciousness'.

Trotsky is no more responsible for the multiplicity of 'Trotskyists' who prostrate themselves before Lech Walesa, Ayatollah Khomeini, or Tony Blair than Marx or Lenin are for the crimes of 'Marxist-Leninists' like Stalin or Pol Pot. (The history of the Trotskyist movement after Trotsky can only be understood in the context of the struggle against the Pabloist revisionism that destroyed the Fourth International.)

A revolutionary party can only be created by embracing the living tradition of Leninism--and that must mean a decisive rejection of Stalinism. Instead of 'socialism in one country'--world revolution; in place of the minimum/maximum programme--a revolutionary transitional programme of the sort advocated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A "reunification" of the Trotskyist and Stalinist traditions would be just as retrograde as a reconciliation between Leninism and Kautskyism.

On Sunday July 19 we will be speaking on the subject of the transitional programme at a CPGB seminar in London. We will also be presenting the Trotskyist view on the Soviet Union at your 'Communist University' in August. We hope that these discussions can help further clarify the differences between our two organisations. Perhaps a process of discussion and debate can narrow the political distance between us. In any case we think it would be a mistake to paper over these differences in the interest of promoting the appearance of 'revolutionary unity' where there is none. For the question of Trotskyism versus Stalinism is not merely a historical question--it poses issues of methodology and programme that are crucial to building a viable international revolutionary movement today.

Published: 27 July 1998