On Trotskyites and Revisionists

I had originally intended to write a piece explaining how Trotskyism, which came into existance with the so-called “Fourth International” under a pretext of the “failures” of “Stalinism”, with some particularly ironic justifications (that the Soviet Union was not spreading revolution around the world fast enough to please Trotsky, when Trotskyism has failed to launch a single revolution anywhere in the world at any time; and that the Soviet Union under Stalin would not fight Nazi Germany), has over time, if the reader will pardon the expression, degenerated. I wanted to discuss how Trotskyites, in becoming increasingly “unorthodox” with their theoretical positions, became even “worse” than they had been before.

But as I started to write, I found myself becoming constantly distracted by asking myself what the relevance of complaining about Trotskyites was. Trotskyism has long been exposed as a pseudo-revolutionary trend to convinced Marxist-Leninists, and it cannot be said to hold tremendous appeal to outsiders either: It may be true that Trotskyism is still a relative “force” on the left in imperialist countries (it is completely insignificant in semi-colonial countries), but even in the United States or Canada, the “official” revisionist “Marxist-Leninist” parties are not exactly concerned with the Trotskyites, and not due to some sort of alliance. Britain can be argued to be an exception (mostly on the force of England and not the other countries), but even here I would argue that Morning Star and the CPB mean as much or more than any Trot paper or party still standing.

Why do we spend so much time “exposing” the Trotskyites if there is no one to expose them to? The Trotskyites simply cannot build success atop the failure of 20th century Marxism-Leninism as they had hoped, and therefore do not present an immediate practical obstacle for us. Perhaps we believe we are going to convert young Trotskyites over to “the correct line”, but I claim that this too is a misguided instinct: The aforementioned problem of 21st century Trotskyism being so “unorthodox” means that we have less and less common ground on which to debate on a theoretical level. Many young Trotskyites sound more like Kautsky or Ebert than Trotsky. Therefore, debating Trotskyites specifically is no longer meaningfully different from debating non-Marxist-Leninists in general. “Trotskyism” is increasingly a trend which lacks a recognisable Marxist or Leninist character in the eyes even of the “orthodox” Trotskyites of yesteryear (who rightly criticise the younger generation as “fakes”), and so our fixation with them (as funny as it may be on Worker’s Spatula) marks us as relics of a bygone era.

CurrentAffairs
Current affairs in the eyes of old Trotskyites and Stalinists alike.

Who then is our greatest enemy today? We must be totally modest and admit that we have lost the Soviet Union, China, and Albania, so we are in a position much like that before the October Revolution, and as Lenin taught, in such a case our struggle ought primarily to be one against trends within our movement which are holding back the goal of socialism. Therefore I will say that I understand why so many English-speaking Marxist-Leninists think they ought to be attacking Trotskyites first. But for the reasons previously mentioned, I think this is redundant.

If our ideological struggle is not to be waged primarily against the Trotskyites, then is our primary target the “modern revisionists”? I am indeed an “anti-revisionist” Marxist-Leninist, and I hold that Khrushchev was an objective traitor, both due to the Khrushchev era’s totally incorrect foreign policy, and due to his deconstruction of the dictatorship of the proletariat (which paved the way for “social imperialism”). The “modern revisionists” still control several actual sovereign states around the world. Should we then focus our energy on attacking, for example, Cuba or North Korea? For practical more than theoretical reasons, I would also answer this in the negative.

Firstly, without the revisionist Soviet Union behind them, the distinction between those of us who support socialist states that no longer exist and those who support no-longer socialist states that no longer exist is similarly losing its status as a question of the day. The CPB may not be a revolutionary party, but it’s hardly encouraging any specific counter-revolution such that we should be focusing energy on them. Of course, there is great importance to the question of “revisionism” (otherwise simply having the hammer and sickle hanging on the wall would be enough for us to believe the revolution was proceeding at pace, what with the PRC and all), but it is ultra-left to consider this the primary question, and this was the essence of the error of the “Three Worlds Theory”, whereby the desire to show one’s “purity” against the Soviet revisionists led to de facto alliances with imperialism (headed by US imperialism).

Perhaps condemnation of various revisionist states made some kind of sense when we “anti-revisionists” had China or Albania “on our side” (though I still claim that not only the Three Worlds Theory, but some of Albania’s foreign policy represented an ultra-left fixation on revisionism to the exclusion of the question of imperialism). But today, if “all we have” is North Korea or Cuba, no matter what is wrong with them, we must at least defend them against imperialism (headed by US imperialism). I cannot say that in any country where my blog is being read that North Korea or Cuba are “holding the revolution back”.

Nor is it their “tankie” supporters, as liberals, Trotskyites, and anarchists like to suppose.

But again, it is also not the Trotskyites (who attack North Korea and Brezhnev and Stalin and Enver Hoxha and Mao equally, while remaining suspiciously soft on figures like Morsi).

What is holding us back is, of course, us, just as it was in Lenin’s day. Again, we have nothing in our hands. We have no Soviet Union, we have no China, we have no Albania, we have no “red base area” that fits the standards of genuine revolutionary socialists. Our primary goal is to build a new socialist state, and it’s our practice which prevents us from accomplishing this important task.

Thanks to various errors which we made, allowing our enemies to outmanoeuvre us, we lost the Cold War, and we are back to “square one”.

So what is “square one”? Well, we know what we need. We need to rebuild an international, connecting genuine revolutionary parties. Efforts towards building internationalist soldarity and coordinated action are ongoing within ICOR (which I consider the best model for how to proceed as internationalists at present). Unfortunately, ICOR, or indeed either of the two organisations named ICMLPO, have no member organisation in Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. The US is home to the ROL, which by its own admission is small and, although it has excellent theoretical output, is unable to insert itself into day to day politics in that country as of yet. This is indeed the case for most sympathetic Marxist-Leninists in imperialist countries: Isolated, writing good theory, with little to no practice, itself of poor quality (and you know what we say about quantity and quality…)

As for the ICOR organisations in semi-colonial countries, while many of them are relatively stronger and better at day to day politics, they are as yet unable to show the way forward on a world scale, and many of them are still as unconnected to each other as other admirable organisations in those same countries which lack ICOR or some other “international organisation”. The state of Marxism-Leninism in the world, therefore, is something like the state of Marxism-Leninism in imperialist countries: Divided and isolated, no matter how good it is in theory.

If we want new Octobers, our best bet is to return to the theory and practice of Comrade Lenin and the Third International. We have to rebuild a genuine revolutionary international communist movement, and finally build…

…the Fourth International.

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14 thoughts on “On Trotskyites and Revisionists

  1. My favorite comprehensive dissection of Trotskyism and its errors is Joseph Green’s: http://www.communistvoice.org/00TrotskyOutline.html

    I agree that focusing on refuting Trotskyism as such is generally not a priority. However, as a pseudo-revolutionary trend, genuine radicals often find themselves influenced by or drawn to Trotskyism thinking (falsely) that it is a kind of Marxism and they do not understand that in reality Trotskyism is an anti-Marxist trend, a form of idealism. In my view, this is the most damaging aspect of Trotskyism — it is like pouring salt on a field; once you do that, nothing can new or healthy can grow. The barrenness of the English-language Marxist theory over the past few decades is a testament to this effect. Trotskyist and Trotskyist-influenced pseudo-intellectuals like Gilbert Achcar, David Harvey, and Sam Farber produce nothing but drivel but that drivel is widely considered either to be Marxist or worse yet, the cutting edge of Marxist thought.

    The other valuable thing that I think emerges from critiquing Trotskyism is learning that other ultra-left trends make the same mistakes Trotskyists do, like calling for general strikes as a general panacea, denouncing and attacking reformists (or “reformists”) for tactical reasons they should be supported at a given moment, and rejecting national, agrarian, or bourgeois-democratic revolutions as non or even anti-revolutionary because none of them lead directly and immediately to the dictatorship of the proletariat. All of these errors are made by non-Trotskyists and so understanding Trotskyist errors (and why these errors are erroneous) is useful for combating them when non-Trotskyists make them.

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    • I agree that the puritanical dogmatism of Trotskyites regarding “real proletarian revolution” is an error not limited to Trotskyites themselves. Indeed, when I’m not writing in English, I find many of the most prototypical “Trotskyite” arguments are repeated by groups with the utmost loyalty to (at least the abstract cult of the personage of) Comrade Stalin.

      Related to that, I have a problem with Joseph Green’s attempts to attack “Stalinism” (although you are right that he makes a great deal of fine points against Trotsky). It is of course possible to be critical of Comrade Stalin. As Comrade Enver Hoxha put it:

      “Did Stalin make mistakes? Of course he did. In so long a period filled with heroism, trials, struggle, triumphs, it is inevitable not only for Joseph Stalin personally but also for the leadership as a collective body to make mistakes.”

      But the idea that there is some trend “Stalinism” is an idea sponsored almost exclusively by revisionists who not only criticise Stalin but fall into one of two errors:

      1) Like the “orthodox” Trotskyites, they see any real-world practice as tainted by “Stalinism”.
      2) Like the “unorthodox” Trotskyites, they fail to understand how “state capitalism” emerges and rather ascribe without any regard to theory or practice all failures of the socialist camp to some metaphysical “fall from grace” which followed after the magnanimous personage of Lenin passed from the material realm into immortality.

      I’m obviously slightly joking, but nobody treats Lenin’s writings more like religious scripture than I do, and yet we must accept that the great man was going to die and that after his death something other than undying loyalty to him is going to have to determine the correct line.

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      • Well Hoxhaites hold that the Soviet Union was state capitalist, and some of the blame for Khrushchev does lie with the leadership of the Stalin era. This is inescapable: Not only was Khrushchev part of the Stalin era but some of his conclusions reflected the erroneous conclusions of the Stalin era leadership including Stalin. So blaming Stalin PARTIALLY makes sense, but this does not extend to the charge of “state capitalism”. And in general, I claim you can’t just cut Stalin off from Lenin and view everything after Lenin (including Stalin) as treasonous. Stalin does represent good as well as bad (as Mao put it, 70% good 30% bad 😉 )

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      • I would say the USSR becoming capitalist was a drawn out process, one that started with Khrushchev for sure because he revised the stance on the role of commodities under socialism to make it RESEMBLE the one under capitalism. This is the process that LED TO full capitalist restoration, but this too was a dialectical process, quantitatively, the treatment of commodities from 1956 on gave the USSR economy more and more of a profit-based character until it finally underwent a qualitative change with the fall of the Soviet Union.

        We can somewhat see the same process in the PRC today: It’s obviously wrong to see the PRC as a society ruled in the interest of the people and their needs first and foremost, because it has so much in common with capitalism, but it is not as much a profit-based society as the US, but we can say there’s a generally trajectory heading in that direction at present.

        So one problem with calling this sort of “state capitalist” (which is a nice buzzword but it’s a little reductive) society “Stalinist” is that it puts the blame on Stalin rather than Khrushchev although it was Khrushchev who laid out the blueprint, while I would not say that Enver Hoxha’s Albania (and Enver Hoxha loved Stalin more than anyone, by all accounts) was “state capitalist”.

        Without going into all the theoretical pros and cons I see in Stalin, Mao, and Hoxha, the point is that Stalin is the common ground between “Maoists” and “Hoxhaites”, and was the last non-revisionist face of the Soviet Union. Stalin may have even been in theoretical error on extremely important issues, but his successorship was not just quantitatively, but qualitatively worse because of its stance on fundamental class questions.

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    • As for Harvey, I agree that such academic “Marxism” is in total contradiction with Marx’s most basic teachings. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

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      • I should be clear that I think writing can do an awful lot of good. The point however is that writing should continuously point in the direction of organisation and struggle, which Harvey does in such an abstract way as to be totally useless to the left in the countries in which he is most widely read, including his country of origin and country of current residence.

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  2. Just what exactly is, in your opinion, the correct Marxism-Leninist stance towards historical revisionism? (Actually existing”socialism”). What exactly is your stance on the post 1956 USSR and people’s democracies, and China post Mao? If a war had broken out between the Soviets and the US in 1956, what, in your opinion, would have been the correct Marxism-Leninist stance? What if that had happened in 1966? 1976? 1986? As someone who is currently two thirds Anti-Revisionist, and a third Breznevite, I would really appreciate your response. Thanks!

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    • Sorry for the delay in response, I’ve been having trouble accessing WordPress lately. My view is that in all those years, the Soviet Union should’ve been supported against the US. I am not a “Brezhnevite”, but I think we anti-revisionists are too harsh on the Brezhnevites. They are revisionists, but sometimes Maoists and followers of Hoxha will go too far in attacking them. The correct stance is to criticise them as comrades, but not to go beyond this and cease to view them as comrades unless they are actively sabotaging you. For example, it is acceptable to not view Tito as a comrade because he stood with imperialism against the Soviet Union, but we should defend Cuba or North Korea in spite of their flaws. Those flaws would be easier to fix if we were building our own socialist state today which could deal with them as equals and ease their isolation.

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  3. No problem about the delay, I totally understand. I do think I agree with you on this, and I am very appreciative of your input and this blog. As a young Marxist-Leninist residing in the imperialist core, I am always on the lookout for good outlets of theory, news, and analysis, and I have to say that this blog is one of my chief sources for this and I really respect you. Thanks, and keep up the good work! Keep the red flag flying!

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    • That’s very flattering to hear that I am one of your chief sources! I am sad that I don’t write as much as I would like (or spend as much time on my writings as the topics deserve) given my many other commitments. For a few months this blog will tragically be at an almost total standstill. I intend to post a few things here and there, but as I am also writing elsewhere and helping others with their writing, I can’t put too much priority on this blog until my schedule frees up a bit.

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