By David North
August 23, 1987
Forty-seven years ago Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the 1917 October Revolution, leader of the Red Army and founder of the Fourth International in 1938, was attacked by a Stalinist GPU assassin on August 20, 1940 while living in exile in Coyoacan, Mexico, and died the next day.
The following is the text of a speech given by the Workers League National Secretary David North at a public meeting on Sunday, August 23, 1987, in Detroit, marking the 47 years since the assassination of Trotsky.
Seventy years ago, on the eve of the October Revolution, Lenin made the following observation:
What is now happening to Marx’s theory has, in the course of history, happened repeatedly to the theories of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes fighting for emancipation. During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it. Today, the bourgeoisie and opportunists within the labor movement concur in this doctoring of Marxism. They omit, obscure or distort the revolutionary side of this theory, its revolutionary soul. They push to the foreground and extol what is or seems acceptable to the bourgeoisie.
Examining the reports that are now emerging from Moscow, it seems that there are powerful forces in the Soviet bureaucracy which would, if possible, have the same fate befall Trotsky. Forty-seven years after his assassination, there are signs that the political heirs of those who murdered Trotsky, his children, his closest political associates and thousands of his followers are now, little by little, “rehabilitating” him.
For decades after his death, the ruling bureaucracy in the Soviet Union never permitted any public reference to the name of Leon Trotsky except in the context of slander and denunciation. Now, reports are emerging from Moscow that the problem of how to deal with the historical legacy of Leon Trotsky is a matter of increasingly heated debate within the highest political circles of the USSR.
Photographs of Trotsky as the leader-founder of the Red Army have appeared in the Soviet press. Plays and films in which he is portrayed as a revolutionary leader are scheduled for public presentation. There has even been a report that at a recent congress of the Komsomol, the Soviet youth organization, demands were made for the full rehabilitation of Trotsky and the publication of his writings. At that meeting, a leading official of the Soviet Communist Party is reported to have suggested that a monument be erected honoring Trotsky as a martyr of the Russian Revolution.
We, of course, note these recent developments with some satisfaction. After all, every acknowledgment by the Kremlin leaders of Trotsky’s monumental role in the victory of the October Revolution, the building of the Red Army and the creation of the Soviet Union contributes to the exposure of the monstrous counterrevolutionary role played by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the destruction of the Bolshevik Party and the betrayal of the revolution.
However, any tendency toward unwarranted enthusiasm is restrained, first of all, by the knowledge that the Soviet bureaucracy is organically incapable of giving a full and politically honest account of the past, and, second, by an understanding of the political motivations that underlie the new respect being accorded to Trotsky’s name by the present-day occupants of the Kremlin.
The shadow of Trotsky has always frightened the bureaucracy. It knows that he is a symbol of both the revolutionary traditions of the Soviet working class and its implacable hatred of the Stalinist regime. For Gorbachev, who poses as a critic of that regime in order to save it, the question of Trotsky is not a matter of academic debate. How helpful it would be to the regime if Trotsky could be portrayed before the Soviet working class as the progenitor not of a violent political revolution against the bureaucracy but of the glasnost policies of its Gorbachevite wing!
Trotskyism has nothing in common with hero-worshipping or any other sort of idealist myth-making and romantic sentimentality. The Fourth International is not based upon the historical personality of Trotsky, but upon the revolutionary principles which he defended and the scientific revolutionary program which he played such a large role in formulating. It has never been the position of the Fourth International that the “rehabilitation” of Trotsky by the Stalinists would signify that the Soviet bureaucracy has ceased being one of the principal agencies of imperialism in the international workers’ movement. We have never had some sort of quid pro quo with the leaders of the Soviet bureaucracy: If they stop calling us “fascist wreckers,” we’ll stop denouncing them in front of the working class as Stalinist lackeys of imperialism!
After all, our differences with the Stalinists are not simply over the question of Trotsky’s historical role in the October Revolution. Indeed, the nature of our differences are such that they can be resolved only in the course of brutal struggle. We characterize the bureaucracy as a counterrevolutionary caste whose social interests are totally and irreconcilably hostile to those of the proletariat, both within the USSR and internationally.
By virtue of its entire evolution over a period spanning more than six decades, the Soviet bureaucracy is organically opposed to the cause of world socialism. In fact, the glasnost policy of Mikhail Gorbachev does not represent the repudiation of Stalinism, but arises inexorably out of the putrefaction of a bureaucracy, which is preparing actively to renounce and reject those social conquests of the October Revolution—the establishment of state ownership and the monopoly of foreign trade—which it had previously not dared to directly attack.
Nothing can be more superficial than to base an evaluation of Gorbachev’s policies on the surface tinsel of glasnost. In the 1930s, not a few so-called friends of the USSR traveled to Moscow and on the basis of a few chats with fellow intellectuals proclaimed themselves satisfied that socialism was being constructed in the Soviet Union under the benevolent leadership of “the genial Stalin.” By the 1940s, during the heyday of wartime popular frontism, that pockmarked gangster was being lovingly depicted as “Uncle Joe.”
The issue here is not whether Gorbachev, in his personal characteristics, bears any similarity to the murdering psychopath, Stalin. Even were we to grant that there are marked differences, at least at the present time, in their psychological makeup, that would not at all mean that there exists any fundamental difference, from the standpoint of the essential social and political content, between the policies of the two leaders.
For Gorbachev is the leader of a bureaucratic caste whose usurpation of political power from the Soviet working-class dates back to the period of Trotsky’s struggle against the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party under Stalin. It is this history to which we must refer as the starting point of an understanding of what the recent developments within the USSR mean.
As early as 1922, Lenin detected the growth of bureaucratism within both the party and state apparatus, and he recognized the dangers which this implied for the future of the Soviet Union. The phenomenon of bureaucratism stemmed from the backwardness of the Russian economy, which the working class inherited from the czarist regime which it had overthrown in 1917.
This backwardness was exacerbated by the devastation which accompanied three years of bloody civil war, imposed upon the infant workers’ state by world imperialism, which financed, equipped and provided direct military support for counterrevolutionary forces seeking to overthrow the Bolsheviks.
While the working class successfully defended the revolution, the backwardness of the USSR made a direct transition to socialism impossible. In the impoverished conditions which confronted the Bolsheviks in 1921, it was inconceivable that socialism—an economic order that by definition implies a development of the productive forces beyond those already achieved by capitalism and which signifies the bountiful satisfaction of all material needs—could be realized in the near future.
The nationalization of the means of production by the Soviet state could only initiate the process of liquidating the barbaric heritage of the past, developing the productive forces to a level comparable to those which existed in the more advanced capitalist states and creating the conditions necessary for a future transition to socialism.
While Lenin was still alive, it never occurred to any Bolshevik leader that socialism could be achieved simply on the basis of the national resources of the Soviet Union. Not only the victory of socialism in the USSR, but the very survival of the Soviet state, ultimately depended upon the extension of the socialist revolution beyond the borders of the USSR, that is, in the victory of the proletarian revolution in other countries, above all, in the major centers of world imperialism.
When the working class had conquered power in, say, Germany, Britain, and finally the United States, it would make available to the Soviet Union all the industrial and technological resources of these very advanced countries. The fraternal collaboration of the working class of the West with its Soviet brothers would ensure the relatively rapid development of genuine socialism.
The first attempts by the international proletariat to break the isolation of the Soviet Union ended in a series of tragic defeats—especially in Germany, where Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered on the orders of the Social Democratic regime in 1919. But these early experiences did not deter Lenin and Trotsky from intensifying their efforts to develop an international Marxist vanguard of the working class. Herein lay the significance of the founding of the Third (Communist) International and the historic congresses which were convened in Moscow between the years 1919 and 1922.
But during the interval between the conquest of power by the Russian working class and the extension of the revolution, the isolation of the Soviet Union created enormous social contradictions. The backwardness of the economy meant the persistence of social inequality despite the victory of the working class.
Thus, while the ownership of the means of production passed into the hands of the workers’ state and assumed a social character, the distribution of the necessities of life remained essentially bourgeois—that is, distribution continued to be regulated with a capitalist measure of value. The existence of inequality in the sphere of consumption inevitably brought into being, within the framework of the workers’ state, a bureaucracy whose objective role was the regulation of the unequal distribution of goods.
Brought into existence by objective social processes, the bureaucracy forming within the state apparatus and the Bolshevik Party itself rapidly acquired an ever clearer consciousness of its own material interests. While distributing and allocating scarce material necessities, those employed within the bureaucracy, including many who had at one time been genuine revolutionists, became increasingly concerned that the largest portions would wind up on their own plates. This growing social layer, whose very existence expressed the pressure of world imperialism upon the isolated workers’ state, sought bases of political support within the leading cadre of the Bolshevik Party and found them especially within the organizational bureau headed by Stalin.
The tendencies toward bureaucratism were strengthened by the consequences of the New Economic Policy that had been adopted by the Bolshevik Party to prevent, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the complete economic collapse of the USSR. In an admitted retreat, the Bolsheviks decided to permit a partial revival of capitalist market relations to restore agricultural production and rebuild the shattered links between town and country. The political goal of this retreat was to provide the USSR with some “breathing space” until the revival of revolutionary prospects in the imperialist centers, or a breakthrough in Asia, strengthened the international position of the Soviet working class.
The adoption of the NEP soon produced an improvement in the economic situation inside the USSR, and within sections of the Bolshevik Party an uncritical attitude toward the long-term implications of the policy began to develop. By 1922 the first serious clash over the course of policy occurred when Stalin proposed to weaken the state monopoly of foreign trade and permit the creation of direct economic connections between international capital and petty-bourgeois elements in the city and countryside.
Upon learning of this proposed concession, Lenin immediately sought to prevent it and sought the assistance of Trotsky. Stalin retreated and abandoned the plan. At about the same time, near the end of 1922, Lenin became aware of arbitrary abuses of authority by Stalin and saw in his methods of work an expression of bureaucratic degeneration within the party. His plans to politically destroy Stalin were thwarted by a severe stroke which Lenin suffered in March 1923, ending his political life.
But the struggle was developed by Trotsky, who in October of that year wrote a letter and a series of articles analyzing the growth of bureaucratic tendencies within the Bolshevik Party. The publication of these articles provoked a furious counterattack against Trotsky, orchestrated by a triumvirate consisting of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin, and finding an echo among the conservative elements in the party and state bureaucracy who considered themselves to be the targets of Trotsky’s criticism.
It was at this point that international developments intervened to shape the future course of the struggle inside the Bolshevik Party. In October 1923, a revolutionary crisis of unprecedented dimensions in Germany, which had been building uninterruptedly for nearly six months and which seemed to guarantee the speedy victory of the working class, ended in the worst of all possible ways.
At the eleventh hour, with the date of insurrection already decided upon and with millions of workers awaiting the call to action, the leadership of the German Communist Party—partially due to confusion created by the worsening inner- party crisis in the USSR and unprincipled attacks on Trotsky by the “triumverate” of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev—lost its nerve and called off the planned seizure of power. In some cities, where workers did not learn of the last minute change of plans, actions went ahead as isolated struggles and were quickly crushed. The German bourgeoisie, which had been totally demoralized, and whose ministers had, in expectation of their overthrow, been burning state papers, recovered its nerve. Instead of socialist revolution, Germany entered a new period of capitalist stabilization.
This tragic defeat produced powerful political reverberations inside the Soviet Union. The confidence of the Soviet workers in the perspective of world revolution—in the conception that the path to socialism in the USSR passed through the struggles of the international working class—was shaken. Within the Bolshevik Party, those who were already adapting themselves to the empirical successes of the NEP were inclined to accept the conclusion that the socialist development of the USSR did not depend upon the outcome of a world revolution in which they believed less and less. It was in this climate that Stalin, borrowing the ideas of Bukharin, proclaimed that socialism could be built in a single country.
This marked a decisive turning point in the development of the struggle within the Bolshevik Party: the essential political lines were now drawn. The theory “of socialism in a single country” led inexorably to the rejection of the perspective of world socialist revolution and the transformation of the Communist International into nothing more than an appendage of a Soviet foreign policy that was more and more directed toward securing the survival of the USSR through diplomatic arrangements with world imperialism, based on the preservation of the international status quo.
Against this conservative and reactionary policy Trotsky defended the perspective of world socialist revolution, based on the scientific theory of permanent revolution—which held that the long-term survival of the USSR and its transition to socialism could not be achieved except through the conscious efforts of the world proletariat. The socialist revolution, he insisted, necessarily began on a national scale, but could only be secured and completed on a world scale. He warned that the program of socialism in a single country would inevitably produce disasters for the international working class and lead to the destruction of the Communist International. Far from resolving the problems of the USSR, Trotsky explained that the consequences of such defeats would be intensified isolation, which in turn would weaken its international position while producing ever-more dangerous social contradictions within it.
It is necessary to point out that while Stalin and Bukharin were oblivious to the growing dangers posed by the NEP and advocated ever-greater concessions to the peasantry, Trotsky insisted that the socialist development of the USSR depended upon a faster tempo of industrialization inside the Soviet Union.
Without the development of heavy industry, guided by central planning which consciously mobilized all the existing and potential resources of the USSR, even the short-term survival of the workers’ state was in doubt. There existed the danger that the proletariat, supported by only a meager and unproductive industrial sector, would be drowned by the rising tide of petty capitalist relations in the countryside.
Trotsky and the Left Opposition, which had been formed in 1923, advanced a comprehensive program for the development of heavy industry, which included, among other things, proposals for the strengthening of the position of the USSR in the world economy. Trotsky rejected the notion that the USSR could develop without any reference to the world economy, or that it could ignore international standards in relation to the quality and price of the products of Soviet industry.
Within the framework of the monopoly of foreign trade, Trotsky encouraged the strengthening of the economic bonds of the USSR with the world capitalist market. However, Trotsky’s understanding of the significance of the world economy and of the need to gain access to the technology and material resources of the advanced capitalist countries was just an aspect of his thoroughly internationalist perspective. He did not propose the expansion of Soviet trade with the imperialists as a substitute for revolutionary internationalism. The opposite is the case, for as the 1927 Platform of the Left Opposition declared:
No domestic policy can of itself deliver us from the economic, political, and military danger of the capitalist encirclement. The domestic task is, by strengthening ourselves with a proper class policy, by proper relations of the working class with the peasantry, to move forward as far as possible on the road to socialist construction. The internal resources of the Soviet Union are enormous and make this entirely possible. In using at the same time the world capitalist market for this same purpose, we bind up our fundamental historical calculations with the further development of the world proletarian revolution. Its victory in certain leading countries will break the ring of capitalist encirclement and deliver us from our heavy military burden. It will enormously strengthen us in the sphere of technique, accelerate our entire development in town and country, in factory and school. It will give us the possibility of really building socialism—that is, a class-free society, based upon the most advanced technique and upon the real equality of all its members in labor and enjoyment of the products of labor.
Thus, for Trotsky, all the problems of socialist development in the USSR hinged, in the final analysis, upon the progress and fate of the world socialist revolution. On its own, even the most far-sighted domestic policy could do no more than create the best conditions for the Soviet proletariat to “hold out” within the national fortress of the first workers’ state until the battalions of the international proletariat broke the imperialist siege of the USSR.
In other words, the survival of the USSR required a correct policy on the part of the Communist International. But it was here that the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party was to have its most catastrophic impact.
The policies pursued by Stalin led to an unbroken chain of political defeats of the international proletariat: of the English working class in 1926, of the Chinese working class in 1927, and finally, and most disastrously, of the German working class in 1933. The victory of Hitler and the destruction of the most powerful labor movement in Europe were the products of the criminal ultraleft policies bureaucratically imposed upon the Communist International by the Stalinists.
Within the USSR, the Stalinists, when confronted with the terrible consequences of their prolonged adaptation to the wealthy sections of the peasantry, swung suddenly and recklessly to a program of super-industrialization and forced collectivization of agriculture. This was done without any criticism of the previous line which had led to disaster. Simultaneously, and to a large extent as a consequence of this wild shift in domestic policy, the Stalinists repudiated, but without any critical analysis, the previous false policies of the Communist International—which had promoted opportunist subordination of the proletariat to trade union reformists, petty-bourgeois agrarian radicals, and, in the backward countries of the East, to the representatives of the national bourgeoisie.
In its place, Stalin imposed an adventurist line which denied the existence of any qualitative differences between the reformists of Social Democracy and fascism, and, on this basis, rejected any struggle to form a united front of working class organizations to defeat the fascists while exposing the treachery of the reformists. In Germany, the Stalinists’ opposition to the formation of a united front between the Communist Party and the Social Democracy split the working class and permitted Hitler to come to power without a shot being fired.
In the aftermath of this terrible defeat, unprecedented in the entire history of the international workers’ movement, the Stalinist Communist International issued a statement endorsing all the policies that had been carried out by the German Communist Party. For Trotsky, this endorsement of policies that had led to the destruction of the German workers’ movement signified a qualitative development in the degeneration of the Stalinists and the Communist International.
Until 1933, Trotsky and the Left Opposition had fought, despite expulsions and brutal persecution—including the forced exile of Trotsky from the USSR and the imprisonment of his supporters inside the Soviet Union—for the political reform of the CPSU and the Communist International. The Left Opposition considered itself a faction of the Communist International.
But the defeat in Germany and the endorsement of the policies of the German Stalinists forced a change in Trotsky’s appraisal. He concluded that the Communist International had been destroyed as an instrument of revolutionary struggle, and that the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR and its international appendages had been transformed into political agencies of imperialism inside the workers’ movement. On this basis, Trotsky issued the call for the formation of the Fourth International.
The correctness of Trotsky’s appraisal was almost immediately confirmed. In the aftermath of Hitler’s victory, the Soviet bureaucracy, frightened by the emergence of a fascist regime that was pledged to the destruction of the USSR, now staked its survival upon the formation of alliances with the imperialist democracies. In seeking diplomatic alliances, the Soviet bureaucracy explicitly renounced revolutionary objectives and proclaimed itself a defender of the international status quo.
The Communist parties, working under the direction of the Soviet bureaucracy, functioned as instruments of this counterrevolutionary policy. The program of “socialism in a single country” had become the conscious international defense of imperialism beyond the borders of the USSR. This was the real content of the program of “popular frontism” that was endorsed by the Communist International at its seventh and final congress in 1935. In country after country the Stalinist organizations worked to subordinate the working class to the liberal sections of finance capital and to defend bourgeois property.
By 1936 the full implications of the transformation of Stalinism into an essential prop of world imperialism was revealed. In Spain, the Soviet bureaucracy responded to the outbreak of the Civil War by doing everything in its power to prevent the struggle against Franco from assuming the form of a socialist revolution by the proletariat against capitalism, even at the cost of ensuring the victory of the fascists.
Seeking to prove to British and French imperialism that it opposed the overthrow of capitalism anywhere in Western Europe, Stalin dispatched agents of the Soviet secret police, the GPU, to Spain, where they worked systematically to destroy revolutionary opponents of the bankrupt and reactionary popular front regime. The Stalinists maintained their own prisons in Barcelona, where they incarcerated, tortured and murdered thousands of revolutionaries, including the leader of the POUM, Andres Nin, who, according to some reports, had his skin peeled off by Stalinist torturers and his muscles ripped from his body.
At the same time, within the USSR, the Soviet bureaucracy was initiating the physical liquidation of all that remained of Lenin’s party. The first Moscow Trial of August 1936, in which the closest of Lenin’s old comrades were placed on trial on capital charges, marked the beginning of a three-year-long blood purge that was to result in the murder of virtually all those who had played any significant role in the October Revolution.
Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Piatakov, Preobrazhensky, Bukharin, Krestinsky, Mrachkovsky and other important leaders were charged with being fascist agents, condemned on the basis of false confessions, and then shot in the back of the head in the cellars of Lyubianka prison. Thousands more were murdered, including virtually the entire leadership of the Red Army, countless communist workers, and the finest representatives of the Soviet artistic community and intelligentsia.
But the principal target of the Stalinist assassins was Trotsky himself, who, living without a passport, moved from country to country, in constant danger from GPU killers as well as fascist gangsters. Both Trotsky and his son, Leon Sedov, had been sentenced to death in absentia at the first trial in August 1936. In January 1937, Trotsky was granted political asylum by the government of Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico.
From the moment of his arrival, the Stalinists worked to create a pogrom-like atmosphere of hatred against Trotsky, but with little success. Trotsky’s stature in the eyes of the Mexican workers and oppressed peasant masses remained high. Thus, Stalin had to ultimately rely on GPU gangsters to reach his ends.
But before he could kill Trotsky, he had to first isolate him. One by one, Stalin ordered the murder of Trotsky’s closest political associates in the leadership of the Fourth International. A secretary, Erwin Wolf, was murdered in Spain in the summer of 1937. Then, in February 1938, the GPU succeeded in assassinating Leon Sedov while he was convalescing in a Paris hospital. In July 1938, Rudolf Klement, the principal secretary of the Fourth International who was in charge of the preparations for the founding conference scheduled for September, was abducted in Paris and assassinated. His decapitated corpse was recovered from the Seine River.
Another victim of Stalin was Ignace Reiss, a genuine communist who had defected from the GPU and who, in a letter to Stalin, denounced him as a traitor while proclaiming his own allegiance to the Fourth International. On September 4, 1937, Reiss was machine-gunned to death on a road on the outskirts of Lausanne, in Switzerland. Finally, on August 20, 1940, a Stalinist agent by the name of Ramon Mercader drove an ice-pick through the skull of Leon Trotsky, who died on the following day.
But prior to his death, Trotsky had achieved two great victories, one theoretical, the other political. First, he succeeded in producing his monumental analysis of Stalinism, The Revolution Betrayed.
In this work of unequaled genius, Trotsky disclosed the objective social character of the Soviet state and the ruling bureaucracy. He rejected the claims of those who argued that socialism had been established in the USSR or that capitalism had been restored.
Analyzing the contradictory development of an entirely new historical phenomenon, the world’s first workers’ state, Trotsky explained the causes of the degeneration of the USSR and the growth of the bureaucracy. The new ruling stratum could not, Trotsky insisted, be defined as a class. It occupied no vital and independent role in relation to the property relations established as a result of the October Revolution.
The bureaucracy’s relation to the nationalized property of the USSR was essentially parasitic, and its enjoyment of luxuries unavailable to the overwhelming mass of Soviet workers was that of a privileged caste. The bureaucracy had destroyed Soviet democracy; it had annihilated the cadre of the Bolshevik Party; it had usurped political power from the working class, and its monopoly of political power was maintained through the Bonapartist dictatorship of Stalin. But the bureaucracy had thus far failed to overturn the property relations established in October 1917, and to the extent that the economy continued to develop on the basis of the property relations established by the proletariat, the USSR remained a workers’ state.
However, there was nothing static in Trotsky’s definition of the USSR. In fact, he eschewed all fixed definitions of the Soviet Union. It was, he maintained to the exasperation of the formalists, neither capitalist nor socialist.
It was, rather, to use his words, “a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism,” it was a “transitional” society, in which not only a progression toward socialism but also a retrogression back to capitalism was historically possible. The bureaucracy was not concerned with the development of socialism but with the preservation of its privileges and the augmentation of its wealth. Its policies within the USSR disrupted the planned economy and impeded the development of the productive forces. Its international line of “peaceful coexistence” weakened the world position of the USSR.
At the same time, the nature of its social being propelled it organically in the direction of capitalism. Trotsky explicitly warned that the bureaucracy “has ceased to offer any subjective guarantees whatever of the socialist direction of its policy. It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat.”
From this analysis flowed the scientific substantiation of the policy which Trotsky advocated: the only way out of the impasse created by the bureaucracy was through its overthrow by the Soviet working class through a political revolution.
He called this revolution political rather than social because it did not entail the overturn of the existing property relations. The destruction of the bureaucratic apparatus would be carried out for the sake of preserving and developing the nationalized state property relations created in 1917. It would be directed exclusively toward the destruction of the totalitarian bureaucratic tyranny, the restoration of Soviet democracy and the return of the Soviet Union to the program of international socialist revolution.
As to the physical nature of the revolutionary process, Trotsky left no doubt whatsoever. He was not in the least squeamish about acknowledging that the destruction of the bureaucracy could not be accomplished without violence. “There is no peaceful outcome for this crisis,” he wrote. “No devil ever yet voluntarily cut off its own claws. The Soviet bureaucracy will not give up its positions without a fight. The development leads obviously to the road of revolution.”
The duration of the struggle could not be precisely predicted. That would depend on many circumstances. “In any case,” Trotsky emphasized, “the bureaucracy can be removed only by a revolutionary force. And, as always, there will be fewer victims the more bold and decisive is the attack. To prepare this and stand at the head of the masses in a favorable historical situation—that is the task of the Soviet section of the Fourth International.”
The founding of the Fourth International in 1938, the necessity of which had been theoretically established by The Revolution Betrayed, was the second great achievement of Trotsky prior to his death. Against incredible odds, Trotsky succeeded in ensuring the historical continuity of Marxism, of bequeathing to future generations of the working class a world party which embodied the great theoretical heritage and vast practical experience of the international workers’ movement.
Over the terrible and destructive chasm created by Stalin, into which he had hurled the corpses of thousands of Marxists and in which he had sought to bury the entire precious political culture of international socialism, Trotsky erected a massive bridge across which the proletariat could pass in order to reach its revolutionary destiny.
The International Committee of the Fourth International, with which the Workers League is in political solidarity and full agreement, is based upon the entire theoretical and programmatic heritage of Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism, the essence of which is the mobilization of the working class for the world socialist revolution. The realization of this program requires the interaction of historically developed objective conditions and the subjective consciousness of the working class.
Not only are we confident that the operation of objective laws will produce a crisis of such massive dimensions that the overthrow of capitalism will be placed on the order of the day; the International Committee is convinced that the contradictions of world capitalism are presently leading very rapidly toward the emergence of precisely such a crisis.
The historical decay of American capitalism, the disappearance of the global hegemony of US imperialism upon which the entire structure of post World War II capitalist restabilization was based, has produced an ever-mounting accumulation of contradictions that must lead to revolutionary upheavals in every part of the globe. The ongoing struggles in South Korea and South Africa are the direct product of these very contradictions, and we have not long to wait before their impact finds a no less explosive expression in the advanced capitalist countries.
In fact, the contradictions already are expressed negatively in the unprecedented decline of workers’ living standards in the United States. It is only a matter of time, and not too much time at that, before the negatives of mass unemployment, falling wages, and disintegrating unions are converted into the positives of heightened class consciousness and political-revolutionary struggles.
The task of the International Committee and the Workers League consists in the subjective preparation of the working class for the objective historical conditions that are driving it toward revolutionary struggle. Everything will ultimately depend upon the working class’s consciousness of its own strength and its historic interests. This requires the development of a working class vanguard, deeply rooted in the masses, which has fully assimilated the fundamental theoretical, political and practical lessons of the class struggle on an international scale throughout this blood-drenched century.
An essential part of that political consciousness is an understanding of the role of Stalinism, especially in its modern day Gorbachevite guise. At the present time, the Trotskyist movement, which is the conscious embodiment of the international program upon which the 1917 victory was based, has a duty to politically arm the Soviet working class, to bring forward into the present period the full force of Trotsky’s analysis of the origins and growth of the bureaucracy, and to elaborate the program upon which the struggle against it must be based.
Those who see in glasnost an opportunity to set themselves up as advisers to the bureaucracy, providing “Trotskyist” recipes for the peaceful political rehabilitation of Stalin’s heirs, are guilty of political and ideological treason.
The slightest conciliation with the Soviet bureaucracy, on the grounds that Gorbachev and glasnost represent some sort of progressive development away from Stalinism, only serves to delude the working class and, in fact, to disarm it. There is no spectacle more disgusting than that of ex-Trotskyists who are so stupid and shortsighted as to believe that glasnost is the beginning of the political revolution and that the wise thing to do is to become part of Gorbachev’s entourage.
And yet, today, a meeting has taken place in London. It was advertised in the liberal Manchester Guardian as a meeting to commemorate the forty-seventh anniversary of the assassination of Trotsky by Stalin. And the formal title of the meeting was “IMPORTANT CHANGES IN THE USSR—VANESSA REDGRAVE REPORTS ON THE 15TH INTERNATIONAL MOSCOW FILM FESTIVAL, JULY 1987.” In addition to Vanessa Redgrave, among the listed speakers was none other than Gerry Healy.
That Vanessa Redgrave should go to Moscow and become very excited and enthusiastic about her escapades at the film festival is not a matter of great political consequence. Not long ago she was playing Peter the Great’s mother in a television mini-series. Perhaps it will not be long before she is portraying Mikhail the Great’s mother in a future Soviet film spectacular.
Nothing would come as a surprise. She is a direct political descendant of that long line of petty-bourgeois philistines, dating back to Beatrice and Sidney Webb, who, after some sightseeing in the USSR, proclaimed their admiration for Stalinism. On the very eve of the Moscow Trials, Lord and Lady Passfield, as the Webbs were officially titled, sang the praises of Soviet jurisprudence. Vanessa Redgrave, OBE, is no better, but only somewhat stupider. She went to Moscow not as a revolutionary socialist, but rather as a radical tourist.
Gerry Healy is another matter. Prior to his break with the International Committee in October 1985, he had spent some 48 years in the Trotskyist movement, which he had joined in 1937 after breaking with the British Communist Party. In 1953 he played a leading role in founding the International Committee in order to oppose a liquidationist tendency, led by Michel Pablo, which argued that the Stalinist bureaucracy, under the pressure of the working class, was undergoing a process of self-reformation. The implications of this perspective, as Healy recognized, was to repudiate the perspective of political revolution and with it, the necessity of the Fourth International.
But now Healy has embraced an even more vulgar and degenerate form of that same revisionist outlook. Recently, Healy and Redgrave severed their connections with the minority faction of the Workers Revolutionary Party, led by Sheila Torrance, which had supported him in October 1985. The basis of his split from Sheila Torrance—the end of an alliance that was utterly devoid of a principled content from the very beginning—was that the political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy had begun under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. This is not the place to give an exhaustive analysis of Healy’s arguments, but let us cite the most important ones. In a letter to Torrance written by Healy and Redgrave on October 4, 1986, they state:
“Although the masses are fighting back in every country of the capitalist world, they do so with their hands politically tied behind their backs, i.e., without the real dangers of a third nuclear war being stressed. They fight in different countries as ‘parts’ against this global nuclear threat, and not against this threat as a whole, which is the substance or content of the world crisis.”
To say that the “global nuclear threat” is the substance or content of the world crisis is to break completely with Marxism and the perspective of world socialist revolution. For all his ramblings about dialectics, Healy is incapable of distinguishing between form and content, or, more precisely, he mistakes the former for the latter.
Unemployment, fascism, and war are all different manifestations of the historically-developed contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. The horrors produced by the private ownership of the means of production, which is incompatible with the social character of that production, and by the dominance of national state organization, which conflicts with the harmonious development of the international division of labor, can only be overcome through the overthrow of capitalism. The working class can prevent war only insofar as it is mobilized on a revolutionary program that seeks the destruction of private ownership of the productive forces and the profit system as a whole.
To claim that the working class must be mobilized, first and foremost, against the “global nuclear threat,” which is then defined as the “substance or content of the world crisis,” is, in fact, to embrace the Stalinist perspective of “detente,” and “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. What Redgrave and Healy advocate is the subordination of the international working class to the diplomacy of the Soviet bureaucracy, which remains, as always, based on direct collaboration with imperialism.
In that same letter, just a few lines down, Healy and Redgrave assert that the defense of property relations which exist in the Soviet Union “should be the substance of the world revolution, upon whose defense depends the future of the class struggle in all the capitalist countries of the world.”
Once again, Healy and Redgrave have got things upside down. The idea that the “substance of the world revolution” is the defense of the property relations of the USSR belongs to Stalin, not Lenin and the Bolsheviks. This conception provided the ideological foundation for the conversion of the Communist International into an auxiliary agency of Soviet diplomacy. From a tactic of the international revolutionary movement, the defense of the USSR is converted into a strategy.
For Trotskyists, that is, for Marxists, the defense of the USSR is ultimately bound up with the fate of the international socialist revolution. Thus, to assert that the fate of the class struggle in all countries depends upon the defense of the USSR is to support the subordination of the international working class to the policies of the Soviet bureaucracy. We wonder how Healy would today justify his refusal to support British imperialism in World War II, when the Churchill government was allied with the Soviet regime against Hitler. At that time, Healy rejected the argument that the British workers should suspend the class struggle against Churchill in the interest of the Soviet Union’s alliance with Britain and in the name of the “anti-fascist” struggle. How far Healy has traveled from the principles he once defended!
In another document, this one written on October 23,1986 by a member of Healy’s faction, a certain M. Blakey, we read that Gorbachev’s meeting with Reagan at Reykjavik “broke with the vital tenet of Stalinism: secret diplomacy.”
Not only that, Blakey contends “That this is itself the latest in a long series of developments of the political revolution, which could be dated as beginning in 1953 with the uprising of the East German Workers and proceeding through the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the developments in Poland in the 1960s, in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Poland again in the 1970s and early 80s. Running in tandem with these violent outbursts in the Political Revolution has been in the Soviet Union itself amongst a section of the Intelligentsia the development of dialectical materialism, principally by Omelyanovsky, Oizerman and Ilyenkov ... this development did not take place in a vacuum, but has entered into the thinking of a left moving section of the bureaucracy, which today occupies the leading positions, and which is De-Stalinizing the bureaucracy.”
This statement certainly vindicates the charge, first made by the Workers League in 1982, three years before the split, that Healy’s infatuation with the Soviet philosophers was bound up with a move away from Trotskyism. But that question aside, Blakey’s position is virtually identical to that advanced by Pablo, Mandel and Hansen at different stages of their adaptation to Stalinism.
The political revolution is no longer a definite, concrete uprising of the working class against the bureaucracy. Rather, it is converted into a gradual, protracted, and infinitely-extended process which leads ultimately to a change in the thinking of a section of the Soviet leadership which then carries through the “de-Stalinizing” of the bureaucracy. Blakey does not mince any words about the focal point of the struggle. “I contend,” he writes, “that the Political Revolution is under way and is evident in the highest echelons of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”
If that is indeed the case, then there is no way to avoid the conclusion that Trotsky’s break with the Stalinist parties was historically unjustifiable. The real heroes of the world socialist revolution would have to be those who, whatever their misgivings, went along with the betrayals of revolutions and the murders of Marxists and the plundering of the resources of the Soviet state so that, when they finally achieved positions of authority, they could “de-Stalinize” the bureaucracy!
In other words, the future of mankind is prepared not by the self-sacrificing and audacious revolutionists, but by the timid, self-seeking and patient bureaucrats, quietly waiting for their “chance.” It is to that ludicrous and intellectually and morally impoverished conclusion that Healy is driven.
That is not all. In another document, this one written on January 19, 1987 by one of Healy’s most loathsome courtiers, the Greek petty-bourgeois scoundrel, Savas Michael, who deserted the ICFI in October 1985, the following explanation of Healy’s policy toward the Gorbachev leadership is given.
Speaking of “the possibility and necessity to actively intervene in the changes of the USSR under our independent banner of Trotskyism,” Michael declares, “In this intervention we can, in some cases, support some measures taken by the bureaucracy, which can strengthen the position and the fight of the working class against the bureaucracy and fighting back against any move by this group and of the bureaucracy as a whole against the working class and its conquests, both inside the Soviet Union and internationally.”
If the passage sounds almost illiterate from the standpoint of grammar, I am sure that the problem is not merely one of the translation from the Greek into the English. Marx long ago explained the significance of arguments built on the foundation of “On the one hand ... and on the other hand.” That is the sophistry characteristic of the petty bourgeoisie, which always seeks to straddle both sides of irreconcilable social contradiction.
Savas Michael, dressed in a warrior’s toga, will fight alongside Gorbachev sword in hand as the Soviet leader combats the bureaucracy; but then, the moment Gorbachev and the bureaucracy attack the workers, Michael will deftly pivot to his left and hurl himself against Gorbachev. We can be sure that in the course of this complex and awkward maneuver, Savas Michael’s toga will become unraveled and this petty-bourgeois sophist will stand politically naked in front of the working class, exposed before one and all as a charlatan.
Healy and Michael speak pretentiously about intervening with their “independent banner.” As it turns out, that “independent banner” turns out to be whatever dress Vanessa Redgrave was wearing as she made the rounds at the Moscow film festival.
For a Marxist, an independent banner is, first and foremost, a political program, which is based on a scientific analysis. But program and scientific perspective is precisely what Healy and Michael lack. For all their talk about great changes, they never attempt to list, let alone analyze, these “changes.”
Not long ago, they were singing the praises of the Arab bourgeoisie, and proclaimed that Muammar Gaddafi was developing into a revolutionary socialist. Michael personally traveled to Iran, where, in the midst of pogroms against the left, he appeared on television to glorify the Mullahs and defined their anti-working class regime as “the rule of the deprived.” Now the same impressionistic method is being used to proclaim the beginning of the political revolution in the USSR!
Like all opportunists on the political make, Michael and Healy are guided solely by their impressions and sense of smell. Indeed, if a surgeon were to open their skulls, he would find not brains but rather outsized olfactory glands.
In another of their “on the one hand and on the other hand” sophistries, Healy and Savas proclaim that “From the one side, Gorbachev’s regime seeks the support of the working class and the intelligentsia, with the campaign against sections of the bureaucracy and its corruption, the encouragement of public criticism and the opening towards Soviet democracy, with the steps to legalize the right of the workers to criticize and to transfer more powers to the Soviets, which include non-CPSU members. From the other side, Gorbachev’s policies reproduce the conditions to sustain the bureaucracy, for example, with the introduction of incentives and bonuses to the scientific staff working with the managers.”
If examined carefully, it is clear that the first section of their analysis is an uncritical, not to mention dishonest, portrayal of the functioning of a Bonapartist regime, balancing between antagonistic social forces while always seeking to perpetuate the rule of the oppressors.
The reference to “the openings toward Soviet democracy” and the transference of “more power to the Soviets” is a fraud, inasmuch as the genuine soviets created by the working class in 1917 and upon which the proletarian dictatorship originally rested have long ago been crushed. What exists today are nothing more than bureaucratized instruments which have institutionalized the monopolization of political power by the privileged caste. As for the second part of the Healy-Michael equation, which mentions Gorbachev’s reproduction of the conditions “to sustain the bureaucracy,” these are not subjected to a more serious consideration.
Aside from the fact that they never tell us which side of their equation predominates, let alone explain the essential nature of the regime based upon these mutually antagonistic elements, Michael and Healy compound their sophistry by counterposing a fraudulent plus—“openings toward Soviet democracy”—to an understated negative—“Gorbachev’s policies reproduce the conditions to sustain the bureaucracy.”
The bureaucracy, the medium through which imperialism directly influences the development of the Soviet Union, is not a passive and unchanging social formation. The delay of the world revolution and the protracted isolation of the USSR, which has extended the rule of the bureaucracy longer than Trotsky could have possibly anticipated prior to his death, have intensified the opposition of the bureaucracy to the Soviet working class and have imparted to its social physiology the most malignant character. It is impossible to analyze the policies pursued by the Gorbachev regime without becoming convinced that it is aimed at breaking down the internal resistance of the workers’ state to the untrammeled growth of capitalist relations.
The most significant element of the Gorbachevite “reforms” are the extent to which they undermine the property relations established in the aftermath of the October Revolution and attack the working class. Gorbachev seeks to place responsibility for the economic crisis within the USSR upon the working class, while openly proclaiming that capitalist market methods are the means through which problems of low productivity of labor are to be overcome.
In Gorbachev’s entourage are to be found key advisers who make no bones about their hostility to state ownership of the means of production and restrictions placed on private property. In an article by a Soviet economist, Nikolay Shmelyov, which was published in Novy Mir, we read the following:
“We need to realize that there is such a thing as natural unemployment among people who are looking for work or changing their places of employment.
“The real possibility of losing one’s job, of being shifted to a temporary unemployment subsidy, or being forced to move to a new place of employment is not at all bad medicine to cure sloth and drunkenness.”
In another part of his article, Shmelyov complains that “Our suspicious attitude toward profit is a sort of historical misunderstanding”—as if the October Revolution was a “misunderstanding”! And then he goes on to urge the creation of “free economic zones” and the establishment of a stock exchange.
This article, let us note, was singled out for praise by Gorbachev. It is not an exceptional work, but one of many which expresses the extreme hostility of a broad strata of the bureaucracy, completely petty-bourgeois in its outlook and lifestyle, to the proletarian foundations of the USSR. What it hates in the USSR are the limitations placed upon its ability to accumulate wealth and even convert that wealth into capital.
Trotsky warned long ago of the innate urge of the bureaucracy to establish firmer social props for its rule, and it is this tendency that is finding an expression in the present developments in the USSR and, as a matter of fact, throughout Eastern Europe. There have been reports of the Polish regime giving the native bourgeoisie the right to form independent economic organizations. From Hungary emerge stories of incredible social differentiations, with “red millionaires” arrogantly driving through the streets of Budapest in their Mercedes-Benzes.
We do not doubt that a grave economic crisis exists in the USSR. The Trotskyist movement never gave any credibility to the exaggerated reports of the bureaucracy, least of all to its claim that socialism had been established. But the Trotskyist solution to the economic problems of the USSR begins with the recognition of the inseparable link between the socialist development of the Soviet Union and the world revolution. More than ever, the survival of the USSR depends upon the overthrow of world imperialism.
And it is on this question that the utterly reactionary character of the Gorbachev regime is irrefutably demonstrated. The bureaucracy is completely shameless in its cynicism and contempt for the interests of the international working class. It has made no bones about its indifference toward the fate of the Nicaraguan masses. The capitalist press has been gloating over the fact that the USSR has cut its oil exports to Nicaragua, creating a desperate situation for the Sandinista regime.
Moreover, the Kremlin has indicated that when Gorbachev makes his expected trip to Latin America, he will deliberately exclude Nicaragua and Cuba from his itinerary.
Several months ago, the Soviet foreign minister traveled to Asia, embracing such blood-drenched fascists as Suharto in Indonesia—and since then the Kremlin has made it clear that it intends to work closely with that and similar regimes.
Many other examples could be given—such as the fact that the only ambassador to present his credential to Marcos, after the dictator’s fraudulent “reelection” and shortly before his overthrow, was the Soviet ambassador!
Healy now justifies these betrayals of the international working class, and praises these betrayals as the beginning of the political revolution. That is the depth of his political degeneracy.
In concluding, I must recall that it is just two years ago that I and several members of the International Committee shared a platform with Healy, Banda and Savas Michael on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Trotsky. That was just a few weeks before the crisis inside the WRP exploded, setting into motion the events which led to the split between the ICFI and all the corrupted factions of that party.
Since the split, Healy, Banda and Michael have all become rank apologists for Stalinism. For Banda, in fact, the date of Trotsky’s assassination is now a date which he celebrates. As for Slaughter and that wing of the WRP which he leads, he so far withholds direct support to Gorbachev, but he has embraced the Stalinist program of popular frontism.
It is clear that the split was unavoidable. Regardless of all the other events which have transpired, putting aside all the many incidents, however significant, which arose in the course of the political struggle, after 1985 it would never have been possible for members of the International Committee to share a platform with the WRP leaders on the anniversary of Trotsky’s death.
While Healy, Banda and Slaughter have betrayed all the principles for which they once fought, the International Committee carries forward the struggle for the proletarian internationalism that is the unbreakable foundation of our movement. And it is in that spirit that we commemorate Trotsky’s death and resolve to do everything in our power to build the International Committee of the Fourth International as the leadership of the working class that will guarantee the victory of the world socialist revolution.