The Fate of the Russian Revolution, volume 1. Introduction. Part 5

Submitted by martin on 10 September, 2015 - 8:13 Author: Sean Matgamna

Max Shachtman and James P Cannon

James P Cannon

Trotsky and the future of socialism

The purpose of this collection

I. Max Shachtman

The author of most of the material in this volume is Max Shachtman. His texts champion the Russian Revolution and revolutionary socialist politics with incomparable verve. Through most of the 1930s Max Shachtman had played a role second only to Trotsky in propagating revolutionary Marxism. But by the time he died in 1972 he had moved far from such politics. Sometime in the later 1950s Shachtman became convinced that revolutionary politics in the USA were not "operational" in the foreseeable future. Like the Workers Party, which he and others founded in 1940 after breaking with Trotsky over Russia, and its successor the Independent Socialist League, Shachtman believed it to be his duty to help the American working class develop a mass political party, of the sort the British Labour Party then was, but with better politics. In 1958 the ISL liquidated itself into the tiny Socialist Party, and soon Shachtman and his friends controlled that party. The Democratic Party, since Roosevelt, had had the active support of most of the trade union movement. Soon the Socialist Party was working in the broad Democratic Party for a strategy devised by Shachtman: they would take the American working class a giant stride forward in politics, by transforming the Democratic Party into a labour-controlled party, in effect a Labour Party. How? The racist southern Democrats, whose affiliation to the Democratic Party dated back to the Civil War, would be hived off. Shachtman became a sort of operational Fabian, working behind the scenes to manipulate developments in the trade unions and the Democratic Party in the direction he thought would best serve the next stage of working-class development on the road to a socialist consciousness. In this guise of American Fabian, Shachtman helped organise the civil rights movement. He had at the beginning described this Democratic Party realignment strategy as "foul and discreditable work", but necessary. In pursuit of an "opening to the right" which dominated the labour movement, he himself moved on to the right wing's political terrain. How much was initially a pedagogical adaptation, I do not know. He worked with the existing trade union leaders, whom he had once justly described as agents of the ruling class - the labour lieutenants of capital. In an exact replication of the fate of the USA's "Right Communist" grouping of the 1930s, headed by Jay Lovestone, many of Shachtman's supporters became part of the trade union bureaucracy. Shachtman ceased to believe in a "Third Camp" of the working class and oppressed people throughout the world, and opted - like the "orthodox" Trotskyists, only on the other side - for one of the two great camps in the world. He chose the camp led by the USA. Like the working class itself, as a revolutionary political force, the "Third Camp" existed only as a potential, as something to be won, worked for, propagandised about, wrought in the class struggle. Shachtman had insisted on that against those who felt impelled to stand, with however critical a demeanour, in Stalin's camp. After the crushing of the Hungarian rising by Russian tanks in 1956, increasingly Shachtman gave up on it. He accepted liberal capitalism as a "lesser evil" to Stalinism. He believed that the imposition of Stalinist regimes, which would stifle and destroy the labour movement and democratic freedoms won over decades and centuries, as Stalinism did everywhere it ruled, was to be resisted, on pain of death for the labour movement - resisted, even in alliance with liberal bourgeois and American imperialist forces.


In the post-war world where the USSR was the second great global power, recognition that the USA and Western Europe - advanced capitalism - was the more progressive of the contending camps, the one which gave richer possibilities, greater freedom, more for socialists to build on, was, I believe, a necessary part of the restoration of Marxist balance to socialist politics. It was a pre-requisite for the reconstruction of Marxism after the systematic destruction of concepts over a whole period. That destruction began with the early 1920s conversion of Bolshevik civil-war exigencies into revolutionary law and culminated in the final ideological convulsions of Trotsky. But reconciliation with capitalism in the manner of Shachtman in his last years was no necessary part of it, any more than it was for Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto when he rejected the "reactionary socialists". Marx was able to analyse the progressive work of British rule in India while also opposing it; Lenin could write "Can anyone in his senses deny that Bismarckian Germany and her social laws are "better" than Germany before 1848?... Did the German Social Democrats ... vote for Bismarck's reforms on these grounds?". For Marx, for Lenin, and for the classical Marxists, to recognise something as "objectively" progressive did not at all necessarily entail supporting it or endorsing it politically; their task, as they saw it, was to educate, organise and mobilise the working class and to help it to utilise its opportunities - not to promote progress in general in abstraction from the class struggle. Thus the idea of defending even bourgeois liberty against Stalinism, which was an international extension of the tacit alliance revolutionaries might enter into with liberal bourgeois forces against threatening reaction, did not necessarily imply surrender of working-class independence, or demand of revolutionary socialists that they should commit hara-kiri for its sake. Shachtman drew conclusions he had never drawn in the fight against fascism. He joined the democratic capitalist camp. At the time (1962) of the CIA-backed Cuban émigré invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, Shachtman broke with those of his comrades, Hal Draper and Phyllis and Julius Jacobson, and others who would continue to stand on Workers Party and ISL politics. Shachtman thought that a Stalinist Cuba, where no real labour movement could exist, was the greater evil, and backed the invaders. Shachtman's hopes for the development of the Democratic Party into a party controlled by the labour movement floundered as Lyndon B Johnson's America got drawn deeper and deeper into war in Indochina - a war of mechanised slaughter wreaked from the air indiscriminately on Vietnam and Cambodia. Shachtman believed that only behind the bulwark against Stalinism which the USA thus provided could the forces that would resist Stalinism on the basis of progressive politics and democracy be given a chance to emerge. He backed the USA. He died of a heart attack on 4 November 1972, as the USA was preparing to "bomb Cambodia into the Stone Age" - which it did, leaving the ultra-Stalinist Khmer Rouge as murdering kings of the ruins. The folly of relying on US imperialism against Stalinism could not have been more horribly proven. At his end Shachtman stood as a negative example of the need for the politics he had defended for four decades - socialist, working-class independent politics. Yet his writings continue to stand as an immensely valuable positive embodiment of such politics.


It is only from the point of view of the so-called "Third Camp" - that is, of the consistently independent working-class politics which he did so much in his time to clarify and defend - that Shachtman can properly be evaluated or justly condemned. Those who opted for Stalinism, however critically, as a progressive anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist force, were Shachtman's mirror image, only in the other "camp". Those who supported Vietnamese self-determination against the USA were right to do so, but many of us too blithely dismissed the concerns that led Shachtman to his "foul and discreditable" course because, in the last analysis, we accepted that Stalinism, the force, for now, fighting imperialism in Indo-China, was also progressively anti-capitalist. Nor were Shachtman's machinations to find a road forwards for the mass labour movement necessarily discreditable. Even if one thinks the strategy for turning the Democratic Party into a labour party unlikely to succeed, or simply fantastic, and the techniques employed by Max Shachtman and his friends to help engineer it suicidal for socialists, it does not follow that dawdling in sectarian aloofness - still less doing that while basking in imaginary reflected glory from foreign Stalinist dictatorships - is thereby certified to be the best socialist politics. Shachtman's efforts to avoid relegation to the role of passive propagandist have merit, even if one emphatically disagrees with his actions. Nonetheless, Shachtman at the end was deeply mired in conventional American dirty bourgeois politics. The man who had with some justification denounced James P Cannon's conception of the revolutionary party as owing too much to conventional American machine "boss" politics, died in the company of the real machine-politics "bosses". His section of the Socialist Party in effect supported Richard Nixon in the election that was held a week after Shachtman's death. This end to Shachtman's political life must for socialists cast a dark shadow on his memory. There are those eager to make sure it does, who use it to discredit his ideas and his struggle in the '40s and '50s for rational revolutionary working-class politics - that is, to develop the real heritage of Trotsky. It is not so simple or straightforward. The position of Hal Draper and his comrades, their resistance to Shachtman's course, and their break with him would alone refute the canard that Shachtman's end was implied in his differences with Trotsky. Shachtman, when he took himself into the camp of American imperialism, did not take his life's work with him. He could not. Against his future self, he had laid down immense barriers of passionate reason, unanswerable logic, truthful history, righteous contempt for turncoats and fainthearts and scorn for those who in middle age make peace with the capitalism on which in their braver youth they had declared war to the death. Shachtman's "Third Camp" writings are the best commentary on, and the best condemnation of, Shachtman at the end. Those writings, and the writings of Shachtman's comrades, are an important, indeed a unique part of the capital of revolutionary socialism. Arguably - I would so argue - they are the lineal defence, elaboration and continuation of Trotsky's ideas, that is of unfalsified Marxism, as they really were and as they really were developing at Trotsky's death. These writings are a precious part of the heritage of revolutionary socialism: in the post-Stalinist world they are no small part of the seed from which an unfalsified socialism will be reborn. There are parallels. Lenin advocated that the literary remains of George Plekhanov should be kept in print and studied by socialists. Plekhanov, one of the greatest and the first of Russian Marxists, had backed the Russian Tsar's war in 1914-18. Lenin also advocated that the pre-World War One work of Karl Kautsky should be treated in the same way. So should Shachtman and his work. Isn't it to aggrandise Shachtman and his comrades too much to bracket them with Plekhanov and Kautsky? On the contrary, it is to risk understating their importance. Plekhanov and Kautsky were very talented and accomplished participants in a large school. The group of which Shachtman was the political leader and the outstanding writer were the rearguard of an overthrown and ruined political civilisation, which they worked to preserve and restore. It was a political world in which Stalinism fostered amnesia, charlatanism, spiritual darkness, a world in which socialism was eclipsed by vile fraudulence and the old socialist movement had been engulfed by political barbarism. Shachtman and his comrades kept alive Marxist method, culture, political memory, and the aspiration to working-class liberty in that age of political barbarism. Even their nearest brothers and sisters, the "orthodox" Trotskyists, who, despite their faults and inadequacies, had great merit of their own, were infected and tainted by the forces dominant in the labour movement during the Stalinist dark age. Neither Plekhanov nor Kautsky was irreplaceable in his time: there were others as good or better and a large movement from which they could be expected to emerge. The work Shachtman and his friends did was irreplaceable in their time and place. No-one else did it. They were part of no big school of thought. They had to resist the gravitational pull of the far more numerous forces of "official" Trotskyism, itself caught in the gravitational pull of "Communism", in order to do their work. Most who called themselves Trotskyists misrepresented them then, and have since tried to obliterate the memory of the work Shachtman and his comrades did. Making these writings accessible is a necessary part of rebuilding socialism in our time. Nor are the literary remains of Shachtman tainted, except in the eyes of those who want them to be tainted, by his political end: it was not in his power to taint them. As far as I know Shachtman made no serious attempt to repudiate his earlier work. The small prefaces he wrote in his later years to editions of Trotsky's books put out by the Ann Arbor Press - Terrorism and Communism and Problems of the Chinese Revolution - make criticisms of the Bolsheviks no more stringent, though one-sidedly put, than what he said (I think justly) in "The Mistakes of the Bolsheviks" in November 1943 (chapter 1 of this book).


In the nature of things revolutionary politics is generally a young person's game. Hope wells; reality is perceived raw; indignation is untempered by the sense of powerlessness and resignation; sensibility is uncalloused, raw human responses uncowed, courage naive and unchastened by fear of consequences or a sense of its own insufficiency. Age and experience cow, make callous, teach resignation. They impress the painful cost of banging yourself against walls that for now may be impregnable, of pitting yourself against things you cannot soon change, of forgoing the sustaining and comforting community of the acquiescent; of living with a raw sharp awareness, like a nail in your shoe, that ours is a world of iniquity and intolerable injustice - the world which, yet, even when you struggle to change it, you must live in. The sense of powerlessness replaces the youthful idea that anything is possible. Vulnerability replaces the youthful sense of indestructibility. The brutal foreshortening with age of personal time and perspective dims or blots out the longer perspective of a collective socialist struggle. That is especially so when that struggle against capitalism and for socialism is narrowed down to maintaining a small group of socialists now and preparing the future. Then especially, the sense of personal impermanence and weakening infects and saps the idea of an ongoing struggle. The desire to achieve something becomes seductive and warps and replaces the fresh, clean, young sense of what is necessary and worth striving to achieve, whatever the cost and however long the struggle. The long view and the overview give way to shorter, discrete, unintegrated views. Impatience breeds opportunism and induces indifference to the seemingly less immediate concerns. The business of achieving a little bit now displaces the old goal, or pushes it beyond the horizon. So it must have been with Max Shachtman, who in addition saw the world threatened with engulfment by Stalinist barbarism. Julius Jacobson, a long-time associate of Max Shachtman's before 1961, wrote in an obituary of Shachtman in New Politics that, by the end, it was an abuse of language to call him a socialist at all. Yet there is continuity, despite the waning and attrition of individuals. There is a movement, whether a great mass movement or a faltering and struggling cluster of little groups. There is an accumulation of texts and literature and ideas that, once created, once put into circulation, are independent of the mind and the personality in which they originated and of the fate of that individual. Though individuals backslide, grow old and tired, or cowardly or corrupt, they cannot always undo what they did, unwrite what they wrote, erase the criticisms they made of class society, dim the socialist vision they conjured up, even though it has now grown dim for them - nor can they snuff out the activities of those they won and inspired and set to work to win others to the old ideals. Capitalist society has at root not changed even if its old critic has. And so it is with Max Shachtman, as with Karl Kautsky, as with George Plekhanov and many others. That it is so with Shachtman is of tremendous importance. For Shachtman with his comrades, bore, for almost two decades, the main burden of ensuring the continuity of socialism. They knew themselves to be the survivors of a subverted socialist civilisation that had almost vanished; and they knew that it could eventually be recreated by the will, energy and dedication of socialists like themselves, acting in accord with the inner logic of history and basing themselves on the struggles of the working class. In that sense, Max Shachtman remains a great force for socialism.

II. James P Cannon

In many of the polemics in this volume, J P Cannon is not only antagonist but villain: he is what Shachtman is to the "orthodox" Trotskyists. Lucifer, Satan. Since Cannon did more than anyone else to determine the fate of the "official" Trotskyists - those who stood with Trotsky in '39-'40 - there is, I think, some justice in this. Nonetheless, it is one-sided, inadequate and essentially unfair. Cannon was no villain. He was and remained a Marxist working with ideas on Stalinism he took from Trotsky, and conceptions of socialist organisation that proved wrong or inadequate. He insisted on calling himself an "agitator", indicating perhaps a too modest conception of his own capacities; at the same time he had too much confidence and too much self-assurance that he knew what was what in the field of socialist organisation - and far too much assurance that it could be sufficient. Cannon would, according to Shachtman, say to his intimates that he was a Trotskyist in his politics but a "Leninist" in organisation. Shachtman plausibly argued that Cannon's organisational notions had been shaped by the mid-'20s Zinoviev-led Communist International. The factional battle in 1939-40, and Trotsky's death, left Cannon the undisputed leader of the biggest Trotskyist organisation, and the one around which the FI would regroup at the end of the war. To Cannon and those he could find for the work fell the task, if they could do it, of liquidating Trotsky's political errors and repairing his tardiness in re-evaluating the USSR. But Cannon was tied as by an iron shackle to the logic of the locum workers' state that would remain a comparatively progressive force no matter what it did so long as the economy remained nationalised. In response to the World War experience of Stalinism, he might have chosen to follow through on Trotsky's 1939 - and his own - indication of the need to revise the whole position: he chose instead to follow the logic of "totalitarian economism" through to the end. Possibly, he was a late casualty of the '39-'40 faction fight: he had spent too much energy denouncing the indicated changes as criminal "revisionism" and betrayal of "the programme of the FI" to find it easy work. The continuing competitive struggle with the "Shachtmanite" Workers Party did not make it easier. There is perhaps a suggestion of relief in the way in which Cannon in late '41 seems to have accepted that the destruction of the USSR had virtually been accomplished. There can be no doubt that Cannon hated and taught others [the writer, for example] to hate Stalinism. But ultimately, Cannon chose to tie himself and those for whom he had the authority of guardian of Trotsky's legacy, to "progressive" Stalinism; he chose to freeze the movement politically and theoretically at the point Trotsky died. He used his authority after the war to "appoint" and back official theoreticians who extrapolated and developed in a scholastic spirit socialist perspectives from the existence of the anti-capitalist Russian Stalinist empire and the new autonomous Stalinist states such as China. He reconstructed the FI (after the close of discussion in the three-year transitional period after 1945) as a mono-tendency sect around the frozen Trotsky of 1940, in a world that had not remained frozen. Cannon played little traceable part in the theoretical re-evaluation after 1945. He could not have done worse than those he licensed and endorsed. The Catholic Church is a mutated piece of the bureaucracy of the later Roman Empire, that has floated down to our time through a number of different types of society; the typical "official" Trotskyist organisations shaped and influenced by Cannon's organisational conceptions can be seen collectively as a fragment of the mid-20s Zinovievist Communist International. Even where comparatively sizeable organisations have been built, they have been politically sterile.

5. Trotsky and the future of socialism

"To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one's programme on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives - these are the rules". Leon Trotsky

The October Revolution showed for all time what the working class is capable of achieving, what working-class socialists, democratically organised and clear-headed, can do. It proved that the idea of working-class socialism is no chimera. But the real October has been buried for decades, first under the foundation stones of the autocratic Stalinist system and now under the ruins of Stalinism. Together with other bankrupt Stalinist stock, the bourgeois victors have taken over Stalinism's great lie - one of the most poisonous lies of the twentieth century - that Stalinism was Bolshevism. In the war of ideas, the ghost of Stalin is enlisted now on the bourgeois side, still insisting that Stalinism was Bolshevism. The bourgeoisie proclaim that history has ended and that they are the victors. But do they believe it themselves? Marxist socialism is the conscious expression of the underlying unconscious processes of history. Those processes go on. Whatever the fond ideologues of capitalism say, the laws of capitalism uncovered by Marx have not been suspended or superseded. The class struggle goes on: it is ineradicable. Despite the triumphant crowing of the bourgeoisie, socialism now and in the period ahead has a better chance of being revived than at any time in 75 years. Stalinism as a force in the working-class movement is dead! Socialism is rooted in capitalism itself: in the beginning of socialism is the critique of capitalism from the point of view of its exploited victims, the working class. The bourgeois claim to have killed socialism is the claim to have frozen history. No-one can do that. All the contradictions of capital remain. The bourgeoisie must abolish the class struggle before it can eliminate socialism. It can't. The bourgeoisie have won the long cold war with their Stalinist competitors. But capital has, in Stalinism, merely seen off a backward, inestimably more primitive competitor. Their ideological victory over "socialism" is an imaginary victory. The texts in this book establish what the real relationship of unfalsified socialism and historical Bolshevism was to Stalinism, and therefore what value is to be placed on the capitalist version of the old Stalinist myths and lies - right now, the lie that Stalinism was socialism, and that socialism died with the collapse of the USSR. Class struggle is ineradicable because the working class is ineradicable. It is the law of life of capitalist society, because capitalism cannot do without the proletariat. Capitalism repeatedly revolutionises technology and the organisation of production. Thereby it changes the proletariat. It disrupts working-class organisations by technological change and by blows in the class struggle. But the labour movement too revives, reorganises, redefines itself. The handloom weavers and others who made the first mass labour movement, The Chartists in the 1830s and 40s, were no longer a social force when the modern labour movement was created. The working class, renewed, changed, augmented, was. The exploitation of labour by capital - the basic cell of capitalist society - continues generating class struggle and self-renewing labour movements. It will continue until the working class abolishes capitalism.


Marxists criticise the waste, the irrationality and the savage inhumanity of capitalism, but at the same time see capitalism as the necessary forerunner of socialism. That, not that capitalism is vindicated, is the proper conclusion from the experience of the defeat of the Russian Revolution and of the collapse of the society set up by its Stalinist gravediggers, who tried in their own way and for their own reasons to "by-pass" and "dispense with" capitalism. Capitalism has not ceased to be irrational and inhuman, nor have market mechanisms ceased to be blind and wasteful, just because of the failure of the Stalinist experiment in "state socialism". Wage slavery and exploitation have not ceased to be at the heart and root of capitalism. Millions of poor children die needlessly under this system eevery year. In the United States, the richest capitalist country in the world, thousands of people sleep on the streets, or get a living only through the drug trade. Third World slum conditions exist side by side with obscene opulence in its leading cities. In Latin America unemployment runs at 40% in many cities. Cocaine gangsters rule huge areas. Malnutrition and even starvation are widespread. That Stalinism's "authoritarian state socialism" failed to bypass capitalism and emerge as a historical alternative to it does not mean that socialism has ceased to be the answer to capitalism! Stalinism was an experience on the fringes of world capitalism, arising out of the defeat of a working class revolution, and stifiling under its own contradictory bureaucratic regime. Stalinism was part of the pre-history humankind must grow beyond. So, still, is capitalism! The idea that only the market system of the West can be the basis for democracy is the idea that only wage slavery for the masses together with the phenomenal concentration of wealth - and therefore power - at the top of society can be the basis of democracy! It is a prize example of the crazy logic satirised by George Orwell according to which war is peace and lies are truth. It has a lot in common with the old Stalinist habit of asserting that black was white, truth was lies, bureaucratic tyranny was socialism. Even such democracy as we have in the West owes its existence to decades and centuries of struggle by the working people. Democracy in capitalism is limited, imperfect, and frequently not very stable. Mass self-rule by the producers, dominated neither by a bureaucratic state monopoly nor by the economic rule of the multimillionaires and their officials, is a better form of democracy. It is democracy worth the name. It is socialist democracy. The model of socialism restored to its proper shape and colour by the disintegration of Stalinism and the open disavowal of socialism by the Stalinists is the only model of socialism that ever deserved the name - the fight to organise the working class as a clear conscious force, a class for itself, to break bourgeois state power and abolish wage slavery. "To raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy... to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e. of the proletariat organised as the ruling class... In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all". (The Communist Manifesto).

Socialism will revive as a mass force. The only questions are what sort of socialism, and how soon will it revive? And how free will it be from the defects that have rendered it a nullity or worse for most of the twentieth century - since the crushing of the Bolshevik Revolution in the 20s? That depends to a considerable extent on the socialists themselves, on what they do. That in turn depends greatly on how we come to terms with the twentieth century experience of socialism. In the 1880s in Britain less than 200 socialist pioneers set to work to win over the working class, to expand the labour movement and transform it into a socialist workers' movement. Their inadequacies need not detain us here. Work like that will be done again: and we start on a very much higher level, with a mass trade union movement. Here tradition is very important. Tradition is our collective memory. The Marxists are the memory of the working class. The historical memory of a class is worked and reworked; learned from or forgotten, lost and regained, relearned and reinterpreted, and put to work as part of the political capital of the movement. Much depends on the socialists. Not "history", or "capitalist crisis", nor any mechanical agency will do it, but living, conscious, determined, remembering people.


This book is a relentless criticism of the "Trotskyist" tradition that for decades has in a hundred permutations been the most widespread variant of revolutionary socialism. It is criticism from within that current. A large part of the introduction is a systematic criticism of Trotsky's thought on the USSR all through the 1930s: but it is Trotskyist criticism of Leon Trotsky, and it is, I hope, loyal criticism in the spirit of Trotsky himself. The publishers of this book are proud to name themselves in politics with Trotsky's name. However, we refuse to mistake piety for political rigour or mimicry and mummery for fidelity to Trotsky. Trotsky mimicked no-one; and he had the contempt of a reasoning human being for all mummery and all mumbo-jumbo. Trotsky made grievous mistakes on the USSR. In the light of history this is indisputable. The serious Trotskyists are those who critically apply themselves to rectifying and renewing the ideological fabric with the help of which a renewed mass revolutionary socialist movement will be built. That demands a critical, and self-critical, appraisal of the history of socialism. Trotsky once asked rhetorically: What do we do when the "good old books" fail to give the necessary answers? Try to manage with one's own head! After Trotsky's death, his mistakes on the USSR were frozen in the work of pious but uncomprehending or irresponsible disciples into something inimical to his whole spirit. Trotsky was thereby lost. The real Trotsky was both the hero of the workers' victory and the embodiment of the Russian workers' resistance to the Stalinist counter-revolution. He is not only the Trotsky but also the Spartacus and the Blanqui of the twentieth century. Trotsky personified a whole epoch of proletarian culture, tradition, experience, and unbreakable belief in the rational and humanist traditions of Marxism and of the proletariat. Trotsky has come to symbolise and personify revolutionary communism itself, the elemental drive for freedom of the slaves of capitalist class society. Trotsky's writings embody the lesson of working-class struggles that ended in unprecedented victory, and of struggles that ended in catastrophic defeat. Trotsky's writings constitute our best link with the Russian Revolution and the early Comintern: here Trotsky is the Buonorotti of the twentieth century, the passer on of great tradition, the link between the past and its future renewal on a higher level. His writings, mistakes on the USSR aside, embody the lessons of the greatest struggles in working-class history. They are an irreplacable part of the political, theoretical and moral resource of extant socialism. But Trotsky's legacy will necessarily have to be assimilated critically, and reworked in the light of new experiences and new realities just as Trotsky himself reworked and developed the heritage of his teachers, as, for example, on the theory of permanent revolution. He can only be reappropriated critically. Trotsky, rescued from the posthumous captivity in which for so long he has been imprisoned by well-meaning disciples, offers guidance, tradition and an incomparable example. He cannot think for socialists today, but he can help us learn to think better for ourselves. Not misplaced piety - loyal Marxist criticism! It is in this spirit and to contribute to that work that people who think of themselves as Trotsky's people have subjected Trotsky's writings on the USSR to severe criticism. Trotsky is infinitely more than his mistakes.


History is unending struggle - economic, political and ideological. The truth of history is on the side of socialism. This volume will, we hope, make that clearer. That the bourgeoisie should now be triumphant is natural. It is shortsighted. All around the globe, wherever capitalism has created a modern economy it has raised up a militant working class - in Korea and Indonesia, for example. Even when most successful, capitalism only creates its own gravediggers. The paths of capitalist glory lead but to the grave! Class war goes on. What socialists do in this war can be decisive. What they are able to do depends on how they see the world, how they come to terms with the past, how well they resist the pressure of the conservative anti-socialist classes - in short, how they fare in the battle of ideas. The ideas in this book are a contribution to that battle.

6. The purpose of this collection

This collection has a number of purposes. We aim to put into circulation certain key documents of revolutionary Marxism, long lost to anyone not prepared to rummage in libraries, and unavailable even in most good libraries. Though some of the publications in which these texts first appeared had a small circulation in Britain and Ireland, even the most important of them, such as "Is Russia a Workers' State?", were never printed or given any decent circulation here. Neither was Shachtman's collection of articles The Bureaucratic Revolution (1962). Without being too fanciful, and indulging in no more than a little permissible exaggeration, one could call these documents the Dead Sea Scrolls of 20th century revolutionary Marxism. We want to provide an approach to the real history of Trotskyism, that is, of unfalsified Bolshevism and Marxism, and its post-Trotsky mutations; to give as comprehensive as possible an account of the dissident Trotskyists who continued along the basic lines indicated by Trotsky in "The USSR in War", and the trajectory of his concrete descriptions and political responses to the USSR, from "The Theory of Degeneration" (1933) to "The Comintern and the GPU" (1940). We want to put these texts into the living stream of a reviving left, one of whose pre-requisites is a proper coming to terms with the experience of the Russian Revolution and its gravedigger, Stalin, and with its own real political history. It is not a matter here of imagining that one can go and find and put on a tradition, like an old garment found in an attic. Revolutionary politics is not like that. It is not a Disney theme park where you can choose: today we are in the Wild West, or the Middle Ages, or the American or French Revolutions. Maoists in the 1960s and '70s did that with various past periods of the Stalinist movement - the Third Period, the Northern Ireland Communist Party's World War 2 Unionist period, Popular Frontism... It does not work. Real political tradition is a living thing, made up of the practice and assumptions and mutual relations of active militants. [For example, the tradition of Workers' Liberty/ Phoenix Press is an evolution from the tradition of James P Cannon, an evolution that has led us to criticise and rethink, but not to repudiate and disavow].

These texts are an irreplaceable element in the work of re-elaborating a living Trotskyist tradition. It should not be thought that one has to take or leave the political legacy of the Workers' Party and the ISL as a whole. Nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of that organisation. The Workers' Party was not a "monolithic" party; nor are the organisations of those who want to learn from it (for example, some of those who have worked with me to produce this volume would find "state capitalism" - though not as understood by the Workers' Party minority - a better framework for understanding the Stalinist states than "bureaucratic collectivism"). There are things to criticise and reject in that tradition. They got the overall perspective of Stalinism wrong. From our vantage point it is plain that Trotsky, and then Shachtman until 1946 or '47, were right to regard the Stalinist phenomenon as an aberration in the broad sweep of history. It is understandable that the spread of Stalinism after 1944 to a further sixth of the Earth should have led Shachtman to misunderstand. Nonetheless it is plain now that the Stalinist systems emerged as parallels to capitalism, not as its successor. They were historical blind alleys. Apart from the historical importance of some of the pieces reprinted here, the labour movement can learn a very great deal from these texts about what living Marxism is and is not.

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