philosophy and revolution

22 02 2009

intro by Chris Kane

One of the most common forms of sectarian socialism today is the myriad of Trotskyist organisations based on the model of undemocratic centralism.   They claim the origin of their ideas not so much in Marx but Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution.  Trotsky came to be identified as one of the foremost opponents of Stalinism, but as opposed to bringing about a recomposition of the communist movement, Trotskyism compounded the crisis of Marxism. The legacy of Trotsky today is one of constant fragmentation and sectarian vanguardism, whose adherents often cut themselves off from practical service to the labour movement by their antics. How did this come about?  The following critical analysis of Trotsky is by Raya Dunayevskaya, the American Marxist who originated in Ukraine.   In 1937 she moved to Mexico to work with Trotsky, serving as his Russian language secretary.  Her closeness to Trotsky did not prevent her questioning his ideas – she later wrote: “Out of the Spanish Civil War there emerged a new kind of revolutionary who posed questions, not against Stalinism, but against Trotskyism, indeed against all established Marxists”.   After the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact she broke from Trotsky over his continued belief Stalin’s USSR was a ‘workers state’ and developed a theory of state-capitalism.  Later she developed a Marxist Humanist current in the USA, supported by Harry McShane in Scotland.  One of her most important books was Philosophy and Revolution, published in 1973 which contains a powerful critique of Leon Trotsky as a theoretician – this is republished below.

Leon Trotsky as Theoretician, by Raya Dunayevskaya

“In every dualistic system . . . the fundamental defect makes it­self visible in the inconsistency of unifying at one moment, what a moment before had been explained incapable of unification.”  Hegel

The truth is always concrete, and nowhere more so than on the question of methodology, which becomes the ground of the inner coherence between philosophy and revolution. Be­cause of the heroic mold of the former Commissar of War, the rigors of the exile to which Stalin consigned Trotsky soon after Lenin’s death, and the calumnies that dogged his every step until the day of his murder at the hands of a NKVD assassin, there is a subjective air in much that has been written about Trotsky, and subjectivity is attributed to Trotsky himself. Nothing is further from the truth. Trotsky’s analyses were objectively grounded. It was not because of subjectivism, not because he was “the Man of October” (as he was affec­tionately called by his adherents), that he persisted in his at­tachment to Russia. Rather, he erred in the analysis of the class nature of the Soviet Union, continuing to call for its defense even after the Hitler-Stalin Pact for what to him were validly objective reasons. Even as the NKVD assassin’s pickaxe pierced his skull, Trotsky maintained that Russia was “a workers’ state, though degenerate.”

The reduction of the very concept of socialism to statified property is grounded in a methodology that, long before it failed to see a transformation into its opposite in the state property form, had developed the theory of permanent revolu­tion without a self-developing Subject. The dualism in Trots­kyism was thus not only bounded on the one hand by the concept of world revolution and, on the other hand, by workers’ state = nationalized property, but had deeper roots in the very methodology of Trotsky’s most original theory. Put differently, underlying the universalization of the particular, nationalized property, was the dualism in Trotsky’s practice of the dialectic.

Theory, original Marxist theory, is a hard taskmaster. So inseparable is Marxist theory from reality and philosophy that no matter how brilliant the prognostication-and the 1905 prediction that the proletariat, before achieving power in any technologically advanced country, may come to power in backward Russia was surely such a brilliant prognostica­tion-it cannot substitute for what Hegel called “the labor, the patience, the seriousness, and the suffering of the negative.”

The span of 1904 to 1940 is surely long enough not only to test “the suffering” (or lack of it) of “the negative,” but what is a great deal more crucial, to see how theory measured up to reality. The theory of permanent revolution was first propounded by Marx in his 1850 Address to the Communist League in which, in analyzing the failure of the 1848 revolu­tions, he stated that the proletariat must not stop at the point where it helps the bourgeoisie destroy feudalism, but the revolution must continue “in permanence” to the achievement of socialism. When this statement was raised to the level of theory in the very different circumstances of the Russo-Japanese War, it v/as known as “the theory of Parvus and Trotsky.”

A. The Theory of Permanent Revolution

In 1904, in a series of articles on the Russo-Japanese War entitled War and Revolution, Parvus had written:

“The war has started over Manchuria and Korea; but it has already grown into a conflict over leadership in East Asia. At the next stage Russia’s entire position in the world will be at stake; and the war will end in a shift in the political balance of the world. . . . And the Russian Proletariat may well play the role of the vanguard of the socialist revolution.”

In My Life, Trotsky, who was Parvus’ junior by twelve years, readily enough admitted that the analysis of Parvus “brought me closer to the problems of Social Revolution, and, for me, definitely transformed the conquest of power by the proletariat from an astronomical ‘final’ goal to the practical task of our day.” Nevertheless, it was Trotsky’s 1905, a series of articles written between 1904 and 1906, climaxed by the theses in Summaries and Prospectives, which came out of the actual 1905 Revolution, that raised the prognosis to the level of theory. It can rightly be considered original in this develop­ment. The eighty-page essay on the vanguard role of the proletariat, the subordinate role of the peasantry, the question of “state support of the European proletariat,” and the interrelationship of Russia with the European Revolution became the subject of controversy long before Stalin charged Trotsky with “underestimation of the peasantry.” Let us read the main theses as Trotsky himself wrote them:

“In a country economically more backward the proletariat may come to power sooner than in a country capitalistically advanced. . . . Marxism is above all a method of analysis -not an analysis of texts, but an analysis of social rela­tions. . . .

“We have shown above that the objective premises of socialist revolution have already been created by the economic de­velopment of the advanced capitalist countries. . . .

“Many elements of the working masses, especially among the rural population, will be drawn into the revolution and for the first time obtain political organization only after the urban proletariat has taken the helm of government.

“Without direct state support from the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and cannot convert its temporary rule into prolonged Socialist dictatorship. . . . On the other hand, there is no doubt that a socialist revolution in the West would allow us to turn the temporary supremacy of the working class directly into a Socialist dictatorship. . . .

“It is the purpose of every Socialist party to revolutionize the minds of the working class in the same way as development of capitalism has revolutionized social relations. . . . The colossal influence of the Russian revolution manifests itself in killing party routines, in destroying Socialist conservatism, in making a clean contest of proletarian forces against capitalist reaction a question of the day. . . . An Eastern revolution imbues the Western proletariat with revolutionary idealism and stimulates its desire to speak “Russian” to its foes.”

These are the main theses of the famous theory of the permanent revolution as they were expounded in 1904-06, and repeated over and over and over again for nearly thirty-five years, that is, throughout the rest of Trotsky’s life. Theoreti­cally, his whole life can be said to be a series of postscripts to these 1904-06 theses. It is not without significance, how­ever, that Trotsky had never made the theory the foundation for building a tendency or a group; that Trotsky himself did not propound the theory in 1917. The choice of theoretic weapon-the theory of permanent revolution-was Stalin’s, not Trotsky’s, though Trotsky eagerly rose to the bait from the very start of the struggle with Stalin.

The dispute was not over the stage of the world economy, nor over the law of combined development which made it possible for even a backward land like Russia to have a concentrated proletariat. Neither was the vanguard role of the proletariat, nor its need for “state aid” from the techno­logically more advanced lands in dispute. What was in dispute was the role of the masses, not because Lenip doubted the vanguard role of the proletariat and did not fear the private property instincts of the peasantry, but because he did not wish to foreclose the role of the peasant masses in the dialectics of an actual revolution. Since, in the majority, the Russian population was peasant, Lenin considered that all talk of revolution that did not leave that question open was “abstract,” “sonorous,” “empty.”

Whatever Stalin’s motivation in singling out “the under­estimation of the peasantry”-and it surely was for purposes of beating Trotsky and had nothing to do with Stalin’s allegedly “correct” position-nevertheless, the truth was that Trotsky’s concept of the peasantry was certainly not one of a self-developing Subject. It is this which speaks a great deal louder than any Stalinist slander of him. The concept of Subject is pivotal to the dialectic of revolution, not only in Russia but in China, not only in 1905 or 1917 but in 1927 and 1937. It defines the “abstract revolutionism” that Lenin considered the methodological enemy after conquest as before, in defeat as in victory. That is why he tried sketching out new points of departure for theory, should the continuation of October on a world scale emerge “via Peking rather than via Berlin.” And because this is central also to our age, we must follow, step by step, Trotsky’s own views.

Trotsky would have us believe that his position on the peasantry flowed from his position on the vanguard role of the proletariat, but in truth, from the very start his conception of the proletariat’s role was marred by the same abstractions that marred his conception of the peasantry. The question was always one of the. Marxist organization’s having “influence over the proletariat,” “leading” them both before they gain state power and after, and later still, in order for socialism to become a “world system.” The proletariat too he saw not as a self-developing Subject, but as force. This came to a climax at the outbreak of World War I, which disclosed the shocking fact that established Marxism had betrayed the proletariat. A new relationship of philosophy to revolution had to be worked out. As we saw in the previous chapter, this need sent Lenin back to Hegel. Trotsky felt no such compulsion.

It would, of course, be utterly ludicrous, the height of absurdity, to draw the conclusion that “if only Trotsky had also re-examined Hegel’s Logic, all would have gone well”; theoretical differences between Lenin and Trotsky would have been “liquidated” as Trotsky claimed 1917 had “liquidated” them. Trotsky was not unmindful of the dialectic. He took it for granted. It remained “inner,” somewhere in the back of his head. In the front field of politics, Trotsky had always been a revolutionary, an internationalist. He had never shown a trace of “national egoism,” whether Russian or European. Internationalism, however, was not the point at issue within the movement that had remained true to revolu­tionary Marxism. What was at issue was the concrete working-out of a relationship of philosophy to revolution that would be the path to proletarian revolution. If his 1905 theories had been the anticipation of 1917, as the 1905 Revolution was “the dress rehearsal” for the 1917 Revolution, then the theory of permanent revolution should have gotten life and blood in the 1905 Revolution and in the period between 1905 and 1917. Thereby we would have become witness to its self-development, its anticipation of 1917, its becoming ground for the type of antiwar struggles that led directly to socialist revolution.

Instead, Trotsky fought bitterly Lenin’s slogan, “Turn the imperialist war into civil war,” as “negative”; he limited himself to such “positive” slogans as “Peace without annexa­tions.” Clearly, far from having confidence in the vanguard revolutionary role of the proletariat, Trotsky felt that the proletariat could not be expected to embark on anything more than “a struggle for peace.” It is true that once 1917 burst on the historic scene, he claimed it “proved” his theory of permanent revolution. But he hardly practiced such concepts in the period 1914-17. Indeed, he rejected the suggestion that the Zimmerwald antiwar call single out the name of Liebknecht, the only Socialist Deputy courageous enough to dare vote against granting war credits to the Kaiser, on the ground that that would be a “personification,” “a particularization,” a “Germanizing” of the “universal struggle for peace”!

Lenin, on the other hand, felt that every, every, every question-the proletariat as well as the peasantry, the “Organizational Question” as well as the struggle against war-had to have its dialectic worked out anew. Trotsky held on to the old concepts. Indeed, on the peasant question nothing seemed to change from 1904, when he stated that “the rural population will obtain political organization only after the urban proletariat has taken the helm of government.” In 1909 Trotsky wrote that local cretinism is the historical curse of the peasant movement:

It was on the circumscribed political intelligence of the peasant who, while in his village, plundered his landlord in order to seize his land, but then, decked out in a soldier’s coat, shot down the workers, that the first wave of the Russian Revolution [1905] broke.

Even when 1917 erupted not only in the cities but in the countryside, Trotsky, in the very same breath in which he stated that the peasants “pushed the Bolsheviks toward power with their revolt,” concluded that they had played a revolu­tionary role “for the last time in their history.”

Despite Trotsky’s claim that on the agrarian question he was “the pupil” and Lenin was the “teacher”; despite the actual role of the peasantry in 1917, which he himself ex­pressed as, “they pushed the Bolsheviks toward power with their revolt”; despite the fact that the history of China, which was the country at issue in 1925-27, is one long series of peasant revolts, Trotsky reverts so totally to the 1905 position that he does not even grant the peasant a national, much less a socialist, consciousness: “Agrarian backwardness always goes hand in hand with the absence of roads . . . and the absence of national consciousness.”

Mao’s on-the-spot report of the revolutionary role of the peasantry-the now famous Hunan report-did not exist for Trotsky. Even if we allow for the fact that he may not have known of its existence because he was increasingly isolated from the inner sanctums of the leadership, still, as late as 1938-when Mao Tse-tung was very much centre front on the historic stage, having re-entered the national scene through a new alignment with Chiang Kai-shek to fight against the Japanese invasion-Trotsky still laughed at Mao’s claims of having established “peasant Soviets.” Trotsky again re­iterated:

“the peasantry, the largest numerically and the most atomized, backward and oppressed class is capable of local uprisings and partisan warfare but requires the leadership of a more advanced and centralized class in order for this struggle to be elevated to an all-national level.”

Trotsky’s words speak louder than any of Stalin’s allega­tions about “underestimation of the peasantry.” Moreover, ten years after the Stalin-Trotsky controversy, precisely when Trotsky is introducing a new work on the Chinese Revolution (Harold Isaacs’ The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution), he repeats his old position on the peasantry, nevertheless making the bold claim: “the conception of the permanent revolution was confirmed once more, this time not in the form of a vic­tory, but of a catastrophe.” No matter what the historical period, no matter which country is the topic, no. matter what the world situation, Trotsky holds to his position that “no matter how revolutionary the role of the peasantry may be, it can, nevertheless, not be an independent role and even less a leading one.”

The real division, then, was not between Trotsky and| Stalin but between Trotsky and Lenin.) This manifested itself 1 “most strongly in their attitudes toward the masses, peasant or proletarian. Are they the makers of history, or are they there only “to be led,” to be ordered about? Are they the forces who, even when they overthrow capitalism, must return to the role of passive masses the day after the revolution? To Lenin, the revolutionary role of the peasantry was not something he left behind with the April (1917) Thesis, in which he declared that the slogan of “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” had outlived itself, that from then on the struggle was to be for the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the contrary, after the proletariat won power, Lenin insisted that until the revolution enveloped the country­side and the poor peasants’ land committees held destiny in their hands, the revolution would not have completed itself.

Lenin’s methodology was always that of looking at the masses-proletariat, peasant, or oppressed nationality-as self-developing Subject. In the dark clays of World War I, when workers were slaughtering each other across national boundary lines, he looked to the struggle of small nations for self-determination:

“The Dialectics of history is such that small nations, power­less as an independent factor in the struggle against imperial­ism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli which help the real power against imperialism to come on the scene, namely, the socialist proletariat.”

In opposition to many a Bolshevik co-leader, Lenin did not believe the success of the Russian Revolution meant that self-determination was no longer applicable. Stalin’s “rude­ness” and “disloyalty” during Lenin’s lifetime were to be seen precisely in his Great Russian chauvinist attitude toward the national minorities, the Georgians especially. As Lenin lay dying, he entrusted the struggle against Stalin on the question of national minorities to the hands of Trotsky. But as was characteristic of Trotsky throughout his life, he once again went in for “conciliationism.” He failed to unfurl the banner of struggle against Stalin at the Twelfth Congress of the Russian Party as he had promised Lenin he would do.

In 1920 he had voted for Lenin’s Theses on the National and Colonial Question. But again, as on the whole question of dialectics, Trotsky merely “took it for granted” without ever redeveloping the universals of socialism with the newly de­veloping objective situation, much less a new role for the peasantry. The one and only time Trotsky gave serious consideration to the fact that the Theses established a new point of departure in theory, a new point on the basis not of the theory of permanent revolution but of the Leninist position on the National Question, was the time when he was forced to do so by the exigencies of a united caucus with Zinoviev against Stalin’s fatal class-collaborationist policy in China. But then it was Zinoviev’s Thesis he was defending. That thesis based itself directly on Lenin’s position.

The nub of the question is not the authorship of any thesis. Lenin felt a new departure in theory was called for because a new “Subject” had come out in life. The “Subject”- self-determination of nations-may have appeared old. It was during the war and even after the success of the Russian Revolution that it had an altogether different meaning.

“Can we recognize as correct the assertion that the capitalist stage of development of national economy is inevitable for those backward nations which are now liberating them­selves . . . ?  We must reply to this question in the negative … we must . . . give theoretical grounds for the proposition that, with the aid of the proletariat of the most advanced countries, the backward countries may pass to the Soviet, and after passing through a definite stage of development, to Com­munism, without passing through the capitalist stage of development.”

It cannot be stressed too much that these precedent-shaking statements came from a man who had spent decades fighting the Narodniki (Populists) of his own country, people who had maintained that Russia could skip the capitalist stage of development. Just as Nehru thought that through the Panchyat (village council), India could go directly to socialism, so the Narodniki thought Russia could do that through the mir. Lenin fought them bitterly and won the theoretical debate. History has certainly upheld his judgment.

Only something very fundamental and objective could have wrought such a complete change in Lenin’s concepts. Three world shaking events brought about this transformation. First, the 1917 Russian Revolution had established a workers’ state that could come to the aid of a land even more back­ward technologically than Russia. Second, the colonial revolu­tions themselves illuminated the revolutionary role not only of the peasantry but also of national struggles in the imperialist epoch. Third, there was the new dimension of color in the Orient, in Africa, and within the United States. As a totality these events concretized the Subject.

It was this knowledge of the present stage of the im­perialist development of capitalism and the specific stage of national revolutions that had impelled Lenin, ever since the Irish rising of Easter Week 1916, to stress that not all initiative at all times comes only from the working class. As we saw, to Lenin the success of the Russian Revolution did not mean that self-determination was no longer applicable. The Revo­lution only underlined the truth of history’s dialectic: just as small nations fighting for independence could unleash the socialist revolution, so the working class of industrialized countries achieving revolution could help the underdeveloped countries avoid capitalist industrialization. This point of departure in theory-industrialization without capitalism-rested, of course, on the proposition that the working class of the advanced countries could and would come to the aid of their brothers in the technologically underdeveloped coun­tries.

As we see, this page of Comintern history was lost, not only by Stalin, whose policy ruined the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, but by Trotsky. It was lost by Trotsky not out of “subjectivism” or “misquotation.” No, the reason goes much, much deeper. That is how he read Lenin. That is what he understood by the dialectics of revolution, the vanguard role of the proletariat. It turned out always to be “object.” He did not make a theory out of this as had Bukharin, a theory Stalin practiced. But once Lenin was not there to do the “correcting,” the next step was to reduce the concept of a workers’ state to nationalized property.

The failure to have a new appreciation of the dialectic on the basis of the new reality wrought no havoc so long as Lenin was alive and the spontaneity of the masses brought suc­cess to the Russian Revolution. But after Lenin’s death, capi­talism once again caught its breath with the defeat of the developing European revolutions; it gained a new lease on life with retrogressive development also in Russia; and no new “reading” of the dialectic helped single out the new trans­formations into opposite and their opposite-new revolution­ary forces within the proletariat, the peasantry, the youth. Thereupon the dialectic took its toll. Trotskyism, now the only beacon against Stalinist totalitarianism and yet tail-ending it, helped disorient a new generation of revolutionaries. The last decade of Trotsky’s life discloses that tragedy.

B. The Nature of the Russian Economy, or Making a Fixed Particular into a New Universal

Each generation of Marxists must restate Marxism for itself, and the proof of its Marxism lies not so much in its “originality” as in its “actuality”; that is, whether it meets the chal­lenge of the new times. *Thus Trotsky asserted that no matter how great his role in 1917, the proof of his stature would depend on his achievements after the death of Lenin. Stalin’s victory over Trotsky would mean nothing if it were Trotsky’s analyses which proved correct and thereby laid the foundation for the continuity of world revolution. That is, of course, true, and it is here where we can trace the different methodo­logical approaches of Lenin and Trotsky.

Lenin, as we saw, met the challenge of the new objective situation of monopoly capitalism and imperialism philo­sophically as well as “materialistically” by studying it dialectically. He looked at the objective and subjective situation as a unit, a totality that contained its own opposite, from which contradiction the impulse to forward movement would emerge. On the other hand, when confronted with a new stage of world capitalism and the startling phenomenon of Stalinism-not just Stalin as a personality whom Lenin judged so “rude and disloyal” that his Will asked that Stalin be “removed,” but Stalinism, the Russian name for a monolithic party armed with state and economic power-Trotsky merely reasserted the old duality between theory and practice in a new form: his concept of world revolution versus Stalin’s “theory” of “socialism in one country.”

So long as no new stage of economic development had matured sufficiently to be able to suck in the many centrifugal tendencies within the Bolshevik Party, those could, perhaps with justification, appear to be based only on political dif­ferences. By 1928, however, it was no longer a question of factional fights or even only of the receding revolutionary wave. It was internal. The NEP man had grown rich and threatened the workers’ state so totally that Stalin had to break with Bukharin’s “socialism at snail’s pace” and hurry to adopt “sans authorization” total state planning.

By the end of the first Five-Year Plan in 1932, it had be­come quite clear that the whole world of private capitalism had collapsed. The Depression had so undermined the founda­tions of “private enterprise,” thrown so many millions into the unemployed army, that workers, employed and unemployed, threatened the very existence of capitalism. Capitalism, as it had existed-anarchic, competitive, exploitative, and a failure- had to give way to state planning to save itself from proletarian revolution. Whether it was in rich countries like the United States that could still, with its New Deal, maintain a mixed economy, or in Nazi Germany with its state plan, or militarist Japan with its coprosperity sphere statification, the whole world had definitely moved from a “simple” monopoly stage lo something new. What was it? Some, like Bruno Rizzi, called it “Bureaucratic Collectivism”;others called it “State-Capitalism.” None, it is true, worked out theories on the basis of a rigorous study of the Russian economy.

Trotsky rejected, out of hand, both designations. The “property forms” were by now all limited to statification, for the early production conferences had not only been abolished, hut the trade unions themselves had been incorporated in the state. Yet to him, property forms were what made Stalinist Russia inviolate as a workers’ state, “though degenerate.” The Stalinist feature of the bureaucracy was purely limited to its being a “policeman” arrogating to himself a greater share of the wealth as a result of his “distributive function.” Though such a concentration on distribution had been repudiated by Marx as under-consumptionism, Trotsky used precisely this methodology. He continued to consider Russia a workers’ state, no matter how badly the workers fared in it; no matter that the leadership was a bureaucracy with “Cain Stalin”- his term-at its head; no matter that foreign policy included a Hitler pact; and no matter that the Moscow Frame-Up Trials killed off the “General Staff of the Revolution.” As Trotsky lay dying, the heritage he left his cadre-the Fourth International-was still “Defense of the Soviet Union.” What methodology led to such a conclusion? Here are his own words:

“The first concentration of the means of production in the hands of the state to occur in history was achieved by the proletariat with the method of social revolution, and not by capitalists with the method of trustification.”

Where Lenin had fought hard against transforming the reality of the early workers’ state into an abstraction which hid the bureaucratic deformations, Trotsky continued making an abstraction of the Russian state, even after Stalinism had transformed it into its opposite, a state-capitalist society. Where Lenin warned that a workers’ state was a transitional state, that it could be transitional “either to socialism or a return backwards to capitalism,” Trotsky limited any warning about a possible restoration of capitalism “on the installment plan” to the restoration of private capitalism. Neither the fact that the workers had lost all their control over production through factory conferences, nor the fact that the trade unions themselves had been incorporated into the state apparatus, nor the fact that the means of production were increasing at the expense of the means of consumption, exactly as under private capitalism, would move him from making statified property into a fetish: nationalized property = workers’ state.

Like all fetishisms, the fetishism of state property hid from Trotsky the course of the counter-revolution in the relations of production. The, Stalinist Constitution, which legitimatized the counter-revolution against October, Trotsky viewed merely as something that first “creates the political premise for the birth of a new possessing class.” As if classes were born from political premises! The macabre Kremlin purges only proved to Trotsky that “Soviet society organically tends toward the ejection of the bureaucracy”! Because to him Stalinist Russia was still a workers’ state, he thought that the Moscow Trials weakened Stalinism. Actually, they consolidated its rule and prepared it for “the great Patriotic War”-World War II.

Trotsky would speak of the possibility of a restoration of the possibility of restoration of capitalist  relations, but it was always something that might happen or would happen, not as a process evolving “before our very eyes,” 17 evolving in the startling but not altogether mm foreseen form of state-capitalism.  The movement from monopoly to state-capitalism was, moreover, a world phe­nomenon. Trotsky denied the fact. He rejected the theory.

The struggle against Stalinism had an air of self-defense, however, not because Trotsky was subjective about his own m( a (us as leader of the Russian Revolution, but because objecively he saw nothing fundamentally new in world capitalist development. It had simply become more decadent and in its “death agony” had emitted fascism. Though “politically” Stalin had become as evil, this had not “fundamentally” changed the economic relations in Russia; nationalized prop­erly remained intact. Nothing had changed for Trotsky since the decade of 1914-24-except the leadership. Stalin was the “organizer of defeats”-and he, Trotsky, could organize victories.

This is not meant sarcastically. Trotsky certainly was a leader of the only victorious proletarian revolution in history. Whether as Chairman of the Military Revolutionary Commit-lee, which had planned the actual insurrection, as builder of a Red Army out of raw peasant recruits who withstood all counter-revolutionary attacks from Tsarist generals and other professionals, as Commissar of War, or as Foreign Minister, history will not deny him his victories.

But that is not the mark of a Marxist theoretician. To a revolutionary theoretician, what is important is that the new stage of economic development, no matter what it is called, is always considered in strict relationship to the subjective de­velopment, the new form of workers’ revolt, i.e., the new strata in the population that continue to oppose that stage of capitalistic development. And flowing from this relation­ship comes the working out of a new relationship between theory and practice in a way that the philosophy of revolution and its forces and passions do not get separated.

Because these factors did not dominate Trotsky’s analysis, his criticism of Stalinism, though constant, revolved mainly about bureaucratism and the adventuristic “tempo” of Stalinist industrialization. Thereby he became prisoner of- the Stalinist Plan, even as classical political economists had remained prisoners of the fetishism of commodities although they dis­covered labor as the source of all value. No wonder that, in the process, the very concept of socialism was reduced to the concept of state property, state plan. Trotsky’s denials not­withstanding, the proof of this is in Trotsky’s own words- in nothing less fundamental than the Manifesto of the Fourth International on “Imperialist War and Proletarian Revolu­tion”:

To turn one’s back on the nationalization of the means of production on the ground that, in and of itself, it does not create the well-being of the masses, is tantamount to sentenc­ing the granite foundation to destruction on the ground that it is impossible to live without walls and a roof.

The “Man of October” could not have fallen any deeper into the mire of the ideas and methodology of the Russian bureaucracy which was presenting, instead of theory, an ad­ministrative formula for minimum costs and maximum pro­duction-the true gods of all class rulers. Because Trotsky saw no fundamental class division involved in the struggle against Stalinism, the struggle necessarily was reduced to the question of leadership. When Trotsky was first exiled, he reduced the question of revolutionary methodology to the question of intuition:

No great work is possible without intuition-that is, without that subconscious sense which, although it may be developed and enriched by theoretical and practical work, must be ingrained in the very nature of the individual. Neither theoretical education nor practical routine can replace the political insight which enables one to apprehend a situation, weight it as a whole, and foresee the future. The gift takes on decisive importance at a time of abrupt changes and breaks-the conditions of revolution. The events of 1905 revealed in me, I believe, this later life.

Toward the end of the 1930s the dualism between the theory of world revolution and the practice of defending “socialism in one country,” as if indeed it were a socialist creed, brought about a myriad of other contradictions. Because Trotsky’s analysis of the nature of Stalinism lacked a class «li;iracter, Stalin’s “theory of socialism in one country” was treated as a new form of reformism, to be fought as such:

“The theory of Stalin-Bukharin tears also the national revolution from the international path. The present policy of the Com­munist International, its regime and the selection of its lead­ing personnel, correspond entirely to the debasement of the Communist International to an auxiliary corps which is not destined to solve independent tasks.”

Failing to recognize a new stage of world economy and failing to see the class transformation within Russia, he naturally did not see the Stalinists as aspirants for world power. The Hitler-Stalin in pact did nothing to change Trotsky’s concept that the Communist Parties in World War II would do what the Social Democrats had done in World War I, each party capitulating to its own national bourgeoisie. Then the Fourth International would expose the betrayers, and win to its side the proletariat, which remained “immature.” This after the Spanish Revolution! No wonder the Fourth International is a stillbirth.

C. Leadership, Leadership

Trotsky has written much of Lenin’s “rearming” the Bolshevik Party after April 1917 which made possible the conquest of power in November. He never had a word to say on Lenin’s philosophic break with himself.  In  any case,  the point at issue here is not Lenin’s “rearming” of the Party, which by innuendo had been made to appear as if it were a “going over” to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. The point we are concerned with is that Trotsky had not “rearmed” himself, had nowhere undertaken any philosophic  reorganization of his thinking when he was confronted with the betrayal either of the Second International in 1914, or of the Third in the mid-1950s, when he finally did call for the creation of a new, Fourth International. He did, however, realize full well that now the responsibility for the continuity of Marxism rested on his shoulders. Here is how he expressed it in 1935 in his Diary:

“After his [Rakovsky's] capitulation there is nobody left . . . and still I think that the work which I am engaged in now, despite its insufficient and fragmentary nature, is the most important work in my life. More important than that of 1917. More important than the period of the Civil War, or any other.

“For the sake of clarity I would put it this way: Had I not been present in 1917 in St. Petersburg, the October Revolu­tion would have taken place on the condition that Lenin was present and in command. The same can, by and large, be said of the civil war period. . . . Thus I cannot speak of the indispensability of my work even about the period from 1917-21.

“But now my work is indispensable in the full sense of the word. There is no arrogance in this claim at all. The col­lapse of the two Internationals has posed a problem which none of the leaders of these Internationals is at all equipped to solve. The vicissitudes of my fate has armed me with important experience in dealing with it. There is now no one except the 2nd and 3rd Internationals. I need at least five years of uninterrupted work to ensure the succession.”

If only Trotsky had developed a theory to measure up to iik challenge of the times, even if the cadre did not! Trotsky was always too preoccupied with the question of leadership. This preoccupation stemmed from his subordination of the self-developing “Subject” to his concentration on leadership. This led him not only to raise the question of leadership to the level of theory, but to attribute that to Lenin!

For Lenin’s slogans to find their way to the masses there had to exist cadres . . . the vital mainspring in this process is the party, just as the vital mainspring in the mechanism of the party is its leadership.

This is precisely what the vital mainspring of Lenin’s philosophy was not. Despite his 1903 concept of vanguard party, Lenin in 1905 declared the proletariat in advance of the party. Despite his leadership of the Bolshevik Party in 1917, he threatened “to go to the sailors” when its leaders failed to put the question of workers’ power on the agenda of the day. By 1920 he proposed going to “the non-party masses.” Despite the “twenty-one conditions” to the newly formed CI, he not only declared that the resolution was too intent on “speaking Russian,” but ended his life’s work with the most devastating critique of his own co-leaders. The Will not only made clear he had no one to leave his mantle to, but stated that if the divisions in the Political Bureau signified class divisions, then nothing he said would prevent its collapse. Nothing did.

Trotsky, on the other hand, continued to speak of the ‘immaturity” of the proletariat:

“The strategic task of the next period-a pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda and organization-consists in overcoming contradictions between the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard. . . .”

Under the circumstances, his “appeals to the world prole­tariat” sounded hollow, remained abstractions. Without a basis in a self-developing, creative Subject, the Fourth Inter­national could only be stillborn. All the world’s problems had been reduced to a question of leadership, as the very first sentence of the Fourth International testifies:  “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.”  Marxists are fond of saying that abstractions help only ‘ the enemy. The abstraction “nationalized property = workers’ state” has most certainly helped the enemy,  the  Stalinist counter-revolution, once it obtained the objective basis for being-Russia’s statified, exploitative economy.

The duality between the concept of world revolution and that of defense of Stalinist Russia; between socialism as a classless society that can only realize itself as a world society, and socialism = nationalized property isolated from the world economy; between workers as the vanguard and workers who need to submit to “the militarization of labor”(!); between Party as leader of the proletarian revolution and Party as rul­ing over workers’ own instincts and demands-all these duali­ties, as we have seen, were compounded by the contradiction between the dialectics of the revolution and the specific Sub­ject who constituted the majority of “the masses,” when they happened to be peasant rather than proletarian. It is time to draw the theoretic threads together as philosophy and revolution.

Just as that “fixed particular,” state property, was substituted for any concretization of the universal, socialism, so the determination of what was new in China in 1937 was buried in the old category, “a bloc of four classes.” Mao was only echoing in 1925-27 Stalin’s class-collaborationist view. Mao’s new offer of collaboration with Chiang Kai-shek did flow from the concept of a bloc of four classes. But China in 1937 was not China 1927, not only because the Chinese Com­munist Party, Stalinist or otherwise, was now a mass force, but above all because of the objective world situation created by Japan’s invasion of China. For Trotsky to treat the situation in China under those circumstances as if it were only a ii play of the 1925-27 disaster is not only to credit Stalin with omnipotence, it is to reveal one’s own European outlook. And that is very central to the whole thesis: Trotsky’s outlook ” is too Europe-centred.

This is not to say that Trotsky was not a true interna­tionalist. He had always been a world revolutionary. He had never bowed to national egotism, Russian or European. Indeed, the question is not a geographic question at all-neither European nor Oriental nor, for that matter, so much a world Question, as a question of what is a self-developing Subject. Thus, “Europe-cantered” is used here as a manifestation of the failure to grasp a new self-developing Subject that in this case turned out to be the Chinese masses, mainly peas­ants.

What is needed is to hold tightly to the methodology of Marx, who likewise was, of necessity, Europe-centred, in where he lived, the historic period in which he lived, and the subject matter of his most serious theoretic studies, which was England in the mid-nineteenth century. This did not, however, stop him from hailing the Taiping Revolution M a possible new point of departure in world develop­ment. On the contrary, Marx held to this new point of development, not only in the 1850s, when it could be consisted to the quiescent 1850s of the European proletariat, but also in the 1870s and ’80s, when he began to study Russia, a country he had hitherto treated as the greatest European barbarism and as semi-Oriental. Then, in his correspondences with Russian revolutionaries, he began to open altogether new possibilities of revolution in backward Russia, provided it would be supported by the European proletariat. The same attitude to the concrete working out of the dialectic s of liberation characterized Marx’s writings on the historic of the Oriental commune, despotic or otherwise.

The question of “understanding the dialectics” was not ever for Marx or Lenin merely the understanding of a philosophic category, but the question of working out the actual dialectic of liberation.

Every Marxist naturally aims at that, but there is no immediate one-to-one relationship between the subjective and the objective, between philosophy and revolution. Since the test can come only in life itself, we looked at one actual reality, the period between Lenin’s death and Trotsky’s death, to examine the relationship of political theories and philos­ophic concepts. If the dualism in Trotsky had nothing to do with any failure “to return” to Hegelian dialectics during the first Great Divide in Marxism in 1914, it did have everything to do with abstract revolutionism, the methodological enemy Lenin singled out when he moved from attacks on the betrayers to criticism of his Bolshevik co-leaders, who by 1917-24 included Trotsky. Notwithstanding the myriad concrete ac­tivities of Trotsky and Bukharin, as individuals and great revolutionaries, the simple and hard truth is that: “I re­peatedly returned to the development and the grounding theory of the permanent revolution . . . the peasantry is utterly incapable of an independent political role.”

This is one of the last theoretic writings we have from Trotsky, as World War II broke out upon a world changed by the Depression, the rise of fascism, the sprouting of state plans not only in the “workers’ state,” but in the private capitalist world of Nazism and Japanese militarism and in the national resistance in China to Japan’s invasion as well.

A theory so far removed from the realities of the age of imperialism and state-capitalism had to collapse of its own hollowness. That present-day Trotskyist epigones can swear by Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and by Mao’s “Communes” only shows that weightless abstractions and an administrative mentality would rather hold on to a state-power than entrust everything to the elemental mass revolt.

Dialectics takes its own toll of theory and theoreticians.

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One response

23 02 2009
Mike Macnair

Let’s be brutally frank about this.

(1) The core of Dunayevskaya’s argument is that Lenin recognises, and Trotsky does not, that the peasantry can become a self-emancipating subject. Assuming that this is a correct analysis of Lenin’s views (which is debatable), the evidence of the 20th century is quite contrary. The peasantry’s movement for ‘self-emancipation’ and the struggles of the ‘small nations’ produce … Stalinism and imitations of Stalinism. This should, in fact, be unsurprising to Marxists: the peasantry was the social base of Louis Bonaparte’s movement. (Go a little further back in history, and the peasantry was the most solid support of the Absolutist regimes, and it was peasant revolts in China which created … new dynasties. Note in this very passage Dunayevskaya’s inappropriate admiration for Mao.

(2) On the question of Hegel, (a) Dunayevskaya is flatly wrong on Trotsky’s engagement with Hegel: witness his absorption of a semi-Hegelian Marxism in his youth from Labriola, attested in My Life; witness his notebooks on philisophy from the early 1930s. And (b) Lenin’s Hegelian turn has both great power in emancipating him from Kautsky on the state … and great corrupting power in the passages on “unity of will” in Lenin’s struggle against workers’ control and the oppositions in 1918-21 and the ban on factions.




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