- Contents of the Introduction
- 1. Constructing the socialist order
- 2. Bolshevism at bay: Trotsky on the USSR
- 3. The "Locum" and Totalitarian Economism
- 4. The neo-Trotskyists and Stalinist expansion
- 5. Max Shachtman and James P Cannon; 6. Trotsky and the future of socialism
The neo-Trotskyists and Stalinist expansion
I. Provisional formula erected into world-historic interpretation
"The leadership oriented itself without any synthesised understanding of our epoch and its inner tendencies, only by groping (Stalin) and by supplementing the fragmentary conclusions thus obtained with scholastic schema renovated for each occasion (Bukharin). The political line as a whole, therefore, represents a chain of zig-zags. The ideological line is a kaleidoscope of schemas tending to push to absurdity every segment of the Stalinist zigzags. The Sixth Congress would act correctly if it decided to elect a special commission in order to compile all the theories created by Bukharin and intended by him to serve as a basis, say, for all the stages of the Anglo-Russian Committee; these theories would have to be compiled chronologically and arranged systematically so as to draw a fever chart of the ideas contained in them. It would be a most instructive strategical diagram. The same also holds for the Chinese revolution, the economic development of the USSR, and all other less important questions. Blind empiricism multiplied by scholasticism". Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin.
Trotsky rejected the idea that the Russian system at the end of the 1930s was even minimally solid and coherent: it lacked "crystallised class relations". Only because of this did Trotsky reject the idea that the bureaucracy was a ruling class. The bureaucracy was, he thought, a parasitic growth on the continuously degenerating forms of collectivised economy rooted in the 1917 revolution. By the end, the time span Trotsky projected was very short. "Might we not place ourselves in a ludicrous position if we affixed to the Bonapartist oligarchy the nomenclature of a new ruling class just a few years or even a few months prior to its inglorious downfall?", he wrote in "The USSR in War". His refusal to conclude that the ruling bureaucracy was a ruling class was fundamentally and explicitly tied to and dependent on that time scale. In that sense only, and for that reason only, did Trotsky deny that the bureaucracy was a ruling class. Far from his refusal to call it a ruling class expressing softness towards the bureaucracy, Trotsky, as we saw, compared it unfavourably with Nazism. The policy of "unconditional defence of the USSR" was part of this complex of ideas expressing the concept of an "interregnum economy". Degenerating from the revolution, but not yet overthrown by bourgeois forces, it retained the potential of regeneration by way of a new working-class political revolution'. It was not, in Trotsky's view, a degenerated workers' state in stable equilibrium, but continually degenerating. Else - he had said it only tentatively - it was a new form of class society, whose features were its own norm, not a degeneration of something else. Yet, though this gave unmistakable signs of direction, it left the theoretical questions at Trotsky's death in a state of chaos and flux. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory than a political legacy which argued passionately for political conclusions that flowed from the bureaucratically-statised economy when seen in one framework (degenerated workers' state) while at the same time its proponents accepted that an alternative framework (new ruling class) - from which other conclusions would follow - might prove to be better: and would, moreover, have to be adopted if the phenomenon lasted much longer in its present form! Yet that is how things stood when Stalin's assassin Mercador struck Trotsky down. The USSR did last, coming out of the world war intact and in occupation of vast tracts of eastern and central Europe. However, the conclusions drawn then by Trotsky's most loyal "disciples", his partisans of 1939-40, were not those that Trotsky indicated for such an eventuality, but their very opposite - views akin to those Trotsky had long ago been forced to jettison. What was to be "official" Trotskyism by the mid-1950s had been called Brandlerism and Bauerism in Trotsky's lifetime. On the class nature of the Soviet Union the theoretical identity of the Trotskyists had not been disentangled from that of the Stalinists, who also "defended the Soviet Union". Political conditions existed for the international Trotskyist movement, after Trotsky's subtleties died with him, to repeat the political collapse of the Left Opposition in 1928-30. Continuing to criticise, they nevertheless accepted as "progressive", despite everything, the expansion of Stalinism. They translated Trotsky's defence of the Soviet Union into partisanship for the USSR empire. This pattern would last as long as the USSR did, and longer. The neo-Trotskyist solution to the problem of the post-war Russian empire - restricting the word empire to mean monopoly-capitalist empire - obfuscated but could not resolve the problem. Without being defined, it would be one of the issues that split the forces of orthodox neo-Trotskyism in 1953 at the time of the East German workers' uprising. Trotsky's failures to understand Stalinism fully are not difficult to understand. Faced with nineteenth century industrial capitalism, for generations the critics and rebels against the bourgeois system had not fully understood it. Some tended to understand capitalism and the exploitation of the working class as a mere extension of landlordism and age-old land-based robbery. Myths about exploitation originating in the Norman Conquest did widespread service as general explanations well into Chartist times. It is no cause for wonder that in the first years of the new phenomenon of Stalinism, there was not instant clarity. Columbus tried to sail to the Indies and found an unexpected, unknown continent rising out of the sea before him. He died without ever understanding or accepting that it was not the Indies but a "New World" he had found. So with Trotsky and the unexpected social system that was Stalinism. Trotsky too had a false map of history. Though he understood so much about Stalinism, he postponed defining it as the distinct socio-economic formation it was. Much of the difficulty was to cease seeing it in terms of either capitalism or socialism and to examine it as something new, having a "finished", settled character.It was strange, new and evolving. At the end of his life he would talk of the USSR as a counter-revolutionary workers' state displaying "elements" of imperialism. But he still saw it in terms of other formations - capitalism, socialism - and only tentatively, and as if through a shifting mist, as what it really was, a socio-economic formation distinct both from capitalism and socialism: distinct from capitalism, although the bureaucracy was not a mere parasitic growth on a backward workers' state, but a formed exploitative class which, as Trotsky put it towards the end, seized and disposed of all the social surplus product; and distinct from working-class socialism, although it was anti-capitalist and, in its own bureaucratic way, "collectivist" and a "planned" economy.
In September and October 1939 Trotsky, as we have noted, tentatively accepted that the USSR as it was could be seen in a radically different theoretical framework - "bureaucratic collectivism". He said it was too early actually to reach such a conclusion; but irrevocably he had accepted it in principle. Then, close on this radical theoretical break with the past - hypothetical, conditional as it was, but a fundamental departure nonetheless - Trotsky engaged in a bitter political struggle against Burnham and Shachtman. His polemics then for "unconditional defence of the USSR", against Max Shachtman, Martin Abern, James Burnham, and about half of his American comrades, had the catastrophic effect after his death of half-burying what was new in his final position and obscuring the direction of his thought. His "orthodox" disciples would erect and freeze as "Trotskyism" ideas and attitudes with which Trotsky was, probably, breaking, and add for good measure ideas he (see below) had spent his last 17 years fighting. The drama of the 1939-40 faction fight and split would be both the Nativity and the Easter Resurrection story for post-Trotsky Trotskyism. Its literature, by Cannon and Trotsky - kept "authoritative" by non-publication of Trotsky's other, vehemently anti-Stalinist, articles on the USSR of the same time - would educate and miseducate generations, and be the cultural medium of a tendency whose perspectives of workers' revolution were elaborations (not without criticism, to be sure, and, for the Soviet Union, calls for political revolution) on hopes for the success of Stalinism. Trotsky's polemics from the faction fight were collected in a book, In Defence of Marxism, first published in December 1942. "The USSR in War", wherein for the first time he accepted the possibility that the USSR, as it was, without any transformation, might have to be reconceptualised, is the first major item in the 1942 collection. It is followed by a large collection of polemics against those who questioned unconditional defence of the USSR when Stalin was Hitler's partner in carving up Poland, and then invaded bourgeois-democratic Finland, and against those who said, or implied, that the USSR was already to be defined as a bureaucratic-collectivist (or state-capitalist) state. In In Defence of Marxism, the heavy emphasis is on the idea that the Soviet Union is not, or not yet, to be given up. This book, and a companion volume by James P Cannon from the same factional struggle, came to embody "orthodox Trotskyism". Around In Defence of Marxism was built the alleged continuity with Trotsky's movement of the politically reconstructed and radically changed post-war "Trotskyism". From 1942 to 1969-70, when the first "scrapbook" versions of Trotsky's collected writings from the 1930s began to appear, working backwards from 1940, In Defence of Marxism was the main account of Trotsky's views on the Soviet Union known to English-language readers, apart from The Revolution Betrayed, written before the Moscow Trials. If you take the articles on Stalinism from Trotsky's last 18 months and read them in sequence, putting the pieces in In Defence of Marxism in their proper place in the series, you get a very different picture of what Trotsky was saying and where he was going, and a radically different balance. You could, carefully picking through "The USSR in War", get an idea of what Trotsky was saying, or half-saying "for now", and where he might be going; but the countering, numbing, neutralising effect of the rest of the unbalanced collection, with its harsh denunciation of the "petty-bourgeois opposition" of Shachtman and the others, weighed massively, and for most people decisively, against doing that. By contrast, had "The USSR in War" been published in its proper place in the sequence, it would have been hard not to get Trotsky's drift, and hard to see his rather wild polemical sallies as the last word. And harder to take the road the official Trotskyists did take. But the selection in In Defence of Marxism was itself the result of decisions about which road to take. What was put and kept in circulation embodied political selection and political alignment. From the death of Trotsky onwards his works were picked over and used instead of living theory, to garnish empirical political responses and never-again-coherent policies arrived at by means of adaptation to other forces. In Defence of Marxism appeared in December 1942, as the SWP entered into a white heat of soviet patriotism - which was very popular in all the lands allied with Stalin, including the USA; in most people's minds it would have merged with the local patriotism, which the SWP of course rejected and repudiated. The publication of In Defence of Marxism and its slant reflected that wartime pro-sovietism and perpetuated it. It was a time when The Militant was inclined to deny, or half-deny, that the Soviet-Nazi alliance had ever occurred, and when it was admitted, they argued that such an alliance was unnatural anyway, the place of the Soviet Union being, it was implied, naturally with the good guys. The book, with its extremely violent and unqualified condemnation of the "petty-bourgeois" opposition, appeared at a time when, one year after the USA's entry into World War 2, that condemnation had already been proven in life to be nonsensical at every level. Shachtman's "petty-bourgeois" opposition had been accused of recoiling against the Hitler-Stalin pact because they were capitulating to American bourgeois democracy. In 1942, that opposition, organised in the Workers Party, stood before the American working class as defenders of neither the newly popular Soviet Union nor of the USA. The Shachtmanites preached stark opposition to the USA's war. Their young people had systematically gone into industry, where they would consistently have a higher profile than the SWP, whose trade unionists were told to "preserve the cadre" in industry during the war by keeping their heads down. Faction fights generate exaggeration, suspicion, wild extrapolation. Events had shown by December 1942 what had been what in the old polemics. To publish these comments from late 1939 and early 1940, comments which flew in the face of the subsequent developments, was an act of wilful and heedless factional libel. It is impossible to think that Trotsky would have approved. And yet the story is worse still. If you read the reprinted records of the 1939-40 fight you are led to assume that the SWP in the war was always ardently for defence of the Soviet Union. The Militant and the SWP were for defence of the Soviet Union. But they became the passionate upfront public defenders of the USSR only after the tide of the war had turned in Stalin's favour at Stalingrad late in 1942. They were part of what CPers knew as "the Stalingrad draft". Before that, for a whole year, defence of the Soviet Union had had low priority in the pages of the paper. Such is the origin of the compilation that shaped post-Trotsky Trotskyism for over 30 years, and still does so now that Trotsky's other writings of the time are in print. It was both symptomatic and central to the shaping of "orthodox" neo-Trotskyism. The element of accommodation to Stalinism's success is central and massive.
In 1929, many members and leaders of the Left Opposition in the USSR surrendered to Stalin because, in erecting the totalitarian power of the new bureaucratic class and destroying what was left of the labour movement, he also kicked the feeble NEP bourgeoisie into its grave. Trotsky did not. Trotsky had had an independent axis, which his partially false conceptions of Stalinism twisted but did not uproot. So too at Trotsky's end. The neo-Trotskyists had no such axis. Nor had they Trotsky's political and theoretical culture. They made of Trotsky's "unconditional defence" of the "workers' state" a dogma which had less and less grip on the reality of Stalinism, and combined that blind incomprehension on the level of theory with opportunist adaptations. They did remain critics of Stalinism and advocates of working-class democracy - while supporting Stalinism "against capitalism". This combination of eyeless dogmatism and sometimes exuberant opportunist adaptation to successful and "victorious" Stalinism produced very bizarre results within two years of Trotsky's death, and would continue to do so for almost half a century. By erecting Trotsky's conclusions of a particular time against his method, the official Trotskyists both expressed their own unwillingness to think, and sealed off the propensity to think of newcomers - for generations. Mummery displaced Marxism as a living thing. Theoretical poverty, together with a religiosity rooted in fear to try to think along Trotsky's lines and face the real world, fear to look uncongenial reality in the eye, fear of "disillusionment", fear of not being "objective", fear of not being with the real "revolutions of our time", led to a hardening of the heart and of the mind. This produced a view of the world in the early forties, and then in the early fifties, akin to millenarian religion. It is not surprising to find the long-time British adherents of this sort of neo-Trotskyism, the Healyites - albeit in the 1970s after they had gone seriously mad - engaging in public ceremonies structured around Trotsky's death-mask. Trotsky's tentative and questioning posing of an alternative to the workers' state framework unavoidably also implied a questioning, pro tem attitude to the old position. But the old position was frozen by his ardent disciples. They cut away Trotsky's last qualifications and questionings and hypothetical conclusions, and chose in due time to interpret the survival and expansion of Stalinism as proof that nothing in the USSR's "working-class character" had changed or required reconsideration. Trotsky had in anticipation said plainly that opposite conclusions would be indicated if the Stalinist system survived and had to be considered as stabilised. Trotsky had, at the end, set empirical and temporal tests for deciding that Stalinism was a new form of class society. Those who insisted they were the "orthodox" Trotskyists ignored and implicitly rejected these tests. The events after Trotsky's death - when the Soviet Union survived, conquered great territories, became the second power in the world, and was replicated in foreign countries - were entirely outside what was even conceivable to him; but they pointed all the more forcefully to the conclusions Trotsky had indicated in the event that the USSR proved more stable than he had thought. Having in the course of the faction struggle, which continued as rivalry between the two parties that resulted from it - the WP and the SWP - declared the alternative bureaucratic-collectivist framework which Trotsky had tentatively posed in September 1939 as the greatest heresy and "revision" of the "programme of the Fourth International", the neo-Trotskyists had boxed themselves off from resuming Trotsky's train of thought when time and experience of the USSR's survival in war made it imperative. Whereas Trotsky had in anticipation said plainly that new conclusions would be indicated if the Stalinist system survived, his disciples, ignoring Trotsky's thought while using his words, still held that so long as nationalised property remained, and was being spread, nothing had changed or required reconsideration. Trotsky had broken with that position in September-October 1939. They were taken in tow by the Stalinist empire of countries which they soon discovered were "in transition to socialism".
Faced with the survival and expansion of Stalinism, Trotsky's real and evolving idea of Stalinism was destroyed amongst his followers even while they held to the letter of his pre-September 1939 reasoning. The new bureaucratic formations in China, etc. could not be understood, as Trotsky had said the USSR bureaucracy was, to be in conflict and contradiction with the collectivist property they created: bureaucratically collectivised property could not now be identified even obliquely with a form of working class property. James Connolly's mordant joke, "if state ownership is socialism, then the jailer and the hangman are socialist functionaries" had taken on a grim new meaning in the face of Stalinism. The old basic notion of socialism, that political power was decisive, logically came into its own, even if the confusions engendered by Trotsky's attempts to account for the USSR had been justified. The neo-Trotskyists, who chose instead to hold to the letter of Trotsky's ideas, did so because of the seeming resemblance of Stalinist society to socialist forms - nationalised economy and the elimination both of the capitalist mode of economic activity and of the bourgeoisie which personified it. And because attempts to analyse the world afresh threatened to collapse what they understood as the whole Marxist system. Within the verbiage of Trotsky, which they turned into a sacerdotal language, they radically altered Trotsky's ideas. In substance, despite the forms of property, the USSR for Trotsky was not post-capitalist in the sense of being ahead of world capitalism. It could not be: the most basic ideas of Marxism on socialism's necessary relationship to capitalism in history ruled it out. With its expansion, Stalinism had, said Trotsky's epigones, miraculously changed the direction of its social and class evolution, as Trotsky had seen them: where the USSR had inexorably been moving towards a convulsive restoration of capitalism, Stalinism in the USSR and its clones across an additional sixth of the world were now post-capitalist societies "in transition to socialism". Where socialism in one country had been in Marxist terms, as understood by the Communist International and the Trotskyist movement of Trotsky's time, a piece of illiteracy, expressing the world outlook of the bureaucracy, and in USSR life a gruesome mockery of socialism, a modified version of it became the operational idea of the neo-Trotskyists. It was, wrote Ernest Mandel, for example, no longer one country, but a cluster of countries. Most of them were backward (though not all: Czechoslovakia, East Germany) but they were evolving towards socialism by way of what earlier Marxists would have dismissed as utopian colony-building on a giant scale, on the periphery of world capitalism. Socialism was - "for now" - evolving not out of advanced capitalism and as its spawn and replica, but as its competitor, moving from the periphery to the centre. Formal lip service, on ceremonial occasions and in ceremonial documents, to the idea that the world revolution would only be completed when capitalism was overthrown in the advanced countries could not make sense of this in terms of the Marxism of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. That idea was for the future, more or less remote; and meanwhile the USSR, etc., were "societies in transition to socialism" side by side with capitalism. The "actually existing revolution" was a matter of "one, two, many socialisms in one country". On an international scale, it bore more than a passing resemblance to the vision of Michael Bakunin in the First International and after about the effective movement for revolution coming from the social fringes and the social depths. Not from the proletariat of advanced capitalism, on the basis of the best achievements of that capitalism, but from the "wretched of the earth" on the edges of capitalism. In this way, Trotsky's ideas, proclaimed as "official" orthodox Trotskyism, were turned on their head, turned inside out and turned upside down. Socialism in one country - or "socialism in a number of backward countries", was proclaimed to be the permanent revolution. The view that became dominant as neo-Trotskyism was already present in Trotsky's time. It existed in the communist movement, with the "Right Communists" (Brandler, Lovestone, etc.), but also among social-democrats. The old Fabian, George Bernard Shaw, for example, regarded both Stalinism and Fascism as progressive agents of the collectivist spirit immanent in 20th century capitalist society. Their ideas were brought into the fringes of the Trotskyist movement by the Italian, Bruno Rizzi, who is remembered because Trotsky polemicised with him in 1939-40. Like Shaw - who must have influenced him - Rizzi regarded the Stalinist system, which he defined as a new form of class society, as progressive; and, like the Right Communists and Isaac Deutscher, who would popularise their views mixed with elements of Trotskyism, he thought this system could grow organically and smoothly into socialism, without revolution. This idea of Stalinism as viable and progressive came to be adopted by the so-called official Trotskyists, those who, after Trotsky's death, made a palimpsest of his words and texts into which they interpolated alien ideas. The degenerated and deformed workers' state theories were Bruno Rizzi's progressive "bureaucratic collectivism", "Trotskyised"! It is possible to argue that, faced with the reshaping of the world in and after World War 2, Trotsky would have abandoned the path of thought which he sketched in "The USSR In War", "Again and Once More...", and in his last articles, and agreed with his "orthodox" disciples. It is certain, on the literary evidence, that the "disciples", in elaborating what became official post-Trotsky Trotskyism, did not follow Trotsky's method and did not heed what he wrote. They erected part of Trotsky's tentative conclusions above reality, and for 30 years suppressed much that he wrote alongside In Defence of Marxism. Trotsky was flatly at variance with the positions that were, for decades after his death, falsely presented as his "last word". The alleged continuity of "orthodox" neo-Trotskyism with Trotsky was not in fact continuity, but regression to the Trotskyism of before 1933, in a world where Stalinism had plainly moved on very far from the reality of the 1920s, which still shaped Trotsky's views up to 1933. Its angry criticisms of Stalinism were vitiated by its commitment to "unconditional defence" of the Stalinist state, and later the Stalinist empire, against capitalist forces. Trotsky was receptive to events and their implications. The neo-Trotskyist movement used "Trotsky's position" in lieu of thought and real analysis. Neo-Trotskyist analysis was cut and tailed and topped and pruned to fit into a static frame made by taking a snapshot of one moment (one side of Trotsky's 1939-40 writings) out of what for Trotsky was a moving and evolving analysis. When all the old conceptions of the nature of the Soviet Union and the bureaucracy had to be measured and reassessed against the survival, expansion and self-replication of Stalinism, the "official Trotskyists" - those who had taken Trotsky's side in 1939-40, led by James P Cannon, joined soon after the reflux of Nazi Germany by Ernest Mandel, Michel Pablo, and others - turned ideas such as defence of the Soviet Union into frozen dogma and let that dogma commit them to defence of the Stalinist empire, the second power of the world. They came, as we will see, to regard its expansion in war or its replication in Asia or Eastern Europe as advances for the working class. They turned Trotskyism back in its tracks, from what it was in 1940, into a critical adjunct of the full-blown Stalinist empires. They defined Stalinist expansion as the expansion of a deformed working-class revolution. They maintained the belief in the workers' revolution, which for Trotsky was a belief that the labour movement could be "turned round" so that it would play the necessary revolutionary role, by mystifying it out of all reality and beyond all tests of reality; they even rechristened Stalinist Chinese peasant armies as workers' parties. In fact, this was only another way of declaring the whole real perspective of the Bolsheviks dead - everything that Trotsky had tried to avoid in the 1939-40 debate. It had the additional fault of not doing this clearly but by way of naming something else as the working-class revolution and even for the working class. Their "revolutionary perspectives" came to have as their immediate protagonist the Stalinist movement. They evolved a variant of degenerated workers' state theory, supposedly Trotsky's, or developed from Trotsky, that switched all the directions, definitions, class affiliations, and lines of movement in Trotsky's actual theory, arriving at definitions of the Stalinist states - that these were societies in transition to socialism - that were the opposite of Trotsky's . They wound up accepting variants of the perspective of "socialism in one country", of socialism advancing from backwardness on the periphery of the world economy to the centre. It was a procedure with the legacy of Trotsky belonging to the same order of things as the Stalinists' scholasticism and mummery over "Lenin", and with the same consequence, that words and terms lost their meanings and, filled with different content, acquired new and sometimes opposite meanings - except that those engaged in this work were sincere and honest revolutionaries who retained a democratic criticism of Stalinism and made propaganda for, and tried to organise to win, Trotsky's working-class programme against Stalinism. Suspicious of innovation and motivated at root by the desire to do the best they could, they were cautious about challenging Trotsky's authority for fear that they would thereby succumb to the pressure of their own ruling classes. Neo-Trotskyism was rooted in the abortive factional dispute of 1939-40 and in the lines prematurely drawn and defended there. For the "orthodox" Trotskyists, who remained critical of Stalinism and advocates of either reform (as - anachronistically - for China until 1969, Yugoslavia, Cuba, etc., as if these were societies analogous to the USSR in the early period of degeneration in the 1920s) or political revolution - in the USSR and eastern Europe - it was a way to come to terms with the reality of Stalinism as a great collectivist anti-bourgeois power which was also and simultaneously an anti-working-class power. The Stalinist states, no matter how critical of them the neo-Trotskyists were, usurped the place in Marxist theory of the working class in the anti-capitalist revolution - in its first stage. All the typical word-play and all the mystified and mystifying assertions that the working class - crushed and enslaved by the new state and denied the most elementary liberties and civil rights - ruled, could not change that fact. But what else could these be but workers' states, degenerated like Russia or deformed at origin like the others? For Trotsky, the "degenerated workers' state" idea existed within a complex web of ideas and perspectives. For his "disciples", the system within which Trotsky saw the USSR as a workers' state tended to shrivel to a "totalitarian economism". That is there in Trotsky, but there is a lot more. For post-Trotsky Trotskyism, the bare fact of nationalised property and a system modelled on Stalin's USSR, and the rule of Stalnist forces committed to this model, defined a workers' state whatever happened to the workers. It was, for this stage of history, carrying through the transition to socialism - and was to be valued above the lives and liberties of the workers. Words in defence of the workers, however sincere and deeply-felt, could not balance out this logic. From the late 1940s, as the "orthodox" accepted the extension of the Stalinist system in various ways as creating workers' states, they could do it only by taking nationalised property as the ultimate criterion of the alleged class character of those states.
The logic of the neo-Trotskyists' conditionally positive assessment of the new Stalinist "revolutions" turned them to millenarianism - to the idea that socialist progress could be made by some force of "history" or "world revolution" above, beyond and outside the living working class. Echoing the "Third Period" of Communist Party policy, 1928-34, when it was a dogma laid down by Stalinist command that revolution was imminent always and everywhere, the neo-Trotskyists professed certainty that the revolution was coming and, like seers seeking confirmation of prophecies, looked for or redefined events to fit their expectations. This too had roots in some of Trotsky's sweeping predictions of revolution when he could not clearly identify the agency, other than the working class in the most general terms - and in his final view that capitalism was "finished". The point is that the neo-Trotskyists were led, by extrapolation from the idea that the USSR remained a workers' state and the fact that Stalinist forces could create other similar states, to accept - for now - as substitute for the working class those who created in, for example, China, as much as "remained of 1917" in the USSR. There was logic in it. The first essay in millenarianism came out of World War Two. In the period beginning with the end of the siege of Stalingrad (late 1942), the neo-Trotskyists turned to perspectives for socialist gains and capitalist defeats spun around the advances of the "Red" Army from the East to the very centre of Europe. The new approach was most preposterous in its attempts to claim the Russian Army as "Trotsky's Red Army" - a staple of The Militant throughout the war - and its promotion of the idea that it was the nationalised economy that was winning USSR victories and inspiring the Russian workers and soldiers to fight. These bizarre fatuities, on the level of crude advertising-agency or public relations material, can too easily divert attention from the important and continuous core idea within the blatant nonsense - acceptance of a positive revolutionary role for what in fact was Stalin's army and Stalin's state. There was talk of the "Red" Army rousing workers and inspiring them - as there had been in 1939 at the start of the events in Poland and Finland - as if nothing had been learned from the fact that, in Trotsky's words, "the invasions immediately bring about the transfer of power into the hands of the local Stalinist candidates for totalitarian rule", and "not only the majority of the Finnish peasants but also the majority of the Finnish workers proved to be on the side of their bourgeoisie". There was nonsensical pretence that there was not much to worry about in the (sometimes mentioned) counter-revolutionary character of the Kremlin and, implicitly, of its "Red" Army, because that would be lightweight compared to the "revolutionary impulse" from Stalinist advance. There was utter unclarity about the relation between "progressive" nationalisations imposed by the "Red" Army, as in 1939-40 in Poland, and the working class as the agent of revolution. There was absolute subordination, in the last analysis, of all else to the supposed overriding principle of "defence of the USSR". As late as March 1945, only a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe, this fictitious view of the "Red" Army was the dominant one in the most important neo-Trotskyist publication in the world, the US Militant. (See chapter 6.) The fundamental idea was, as we've seen, an identification of nationalised property with progress and of Stalinist policy, despite Stalin, as a mere reflex of that progressive economy. Everything else was faded into the background. Without dropping their criticisms - especially of the Communist Parties in western Europe, against which they fought bitterly - the US official Trotskyists and those they influenced took up the posture of hopeful expectancy, of a push for socialist revolution connected with the advance of Stalin's army. The principle of "defence of the USSR" led directly to this; but to assert a straight line from Trotsky to the neo-Trotskyist politics of 1942-5 you have to ignore Trotsky's prognosis of 1939-40. This could not have been the policy of the Trotsky who wrote what he did in 1939-40. No, after Stalingrad the "orthodox" Trotskyists had taken a sharp fork in the road away from both the spirit and the letter of what Trotsky wrote. Post-Trotsky "Trotskyism" as it existed from 1942 was indeed part of the "Stalingrad draft" that led vast numbers to join the Communist Parties. Foolish triumphalism about the victories of the workers' state was their response when history offered up the evidence that Trotsky had indicated would conclusively falsify the "workers' state" thesis: the bureaucracy remaining stable in the convulsions of a world war. The leader of the "orthodox", James P Cannon, had himself put the perspective most sharply, in a passage which I have already quoted from a letter to Trotsky: "Stalin could take the path of Napoleonic conquest not merely against small border states, but against the greatest imperialist powers, only on one condition: that the Soviet bureaucracy in reality represents a new triumphant class which is in harmony with its economic system and secure in its position at home, etc. If such really is the case, we certainly must revise everything we have said on the subject of the bureaucracy up to now" (Struggle for a Proletarian Party). When Stalin did conquer a large part of Germany, however, Cannon made no such revision. What he revised, or licensed others to revise, while holding to Trotsky's words, were the framework and criteria of Trotsky's entire approach and Trotsky's root and branch rejection of socialism in one country. Neo-Trotskyism became a chaos of crazily distorting mirrors. At the end of the war the workaday millenarian politics about "Trotsky's Red Army" were still clothed in shreds of the old Trotskyism. As the Russian Army consolidated itself as master of half of Europe, the USSR, though in fact the second power in the world, and the great power of Europe and Asia, was - so the ventriloquised Trotsky, used as Lenin had long been used in the USSR, told readers of The Militant - still in danger. "Only the world revolution can save the USSR for socialism. But the world revolution carries with it the inescapable blotting out of the Kremlin oligarchy". Reading the coverage of current affairs in the files of the "Shachtmanite" Labor Action and New International and the "orthodox" Militant and Fourth International is like being with, on one side, people who live on the planet Earth and read bourgeois newspapers, and, on the other, citizens of the Moon peering at the affairs of Earth through a weak telescope and relying on old photographs and accounts of life on Earth thousands of years in the past to decipher what is going on. Millenarianism is the all-tuning note in post-war "orthodox" Trotskyism. It was in full control by late 1942; by 1951 it was running riot, as the "Fourth International" looked to a Russian victory in an imminent nuclear world war (a "War-Revolution") to put an end to capitalism and begin the transition to socialism on a world scale. But there was not a straight line. In the 1940s there was an interruption, and perhaps the possibility of the "orthodox" evolving in a different direction.
In their time Burnham and Shachtman had written almost all the policy statements and analytical articles for the SWP. After the split of April 1940, those who took over this work - but now with no help from Trotsky other than old texts - were Albert Goldman, Felix Morrow and John G Wright. In the 1939-40 dispute Goldman had at first taken a flat and crass line of positive support for the Russian invasion of Poland (see chapter 7). No-one else had such a position. Morrow wrote daffy but logical extrapolations about "the class significance of the Soviet victories". But these were honest people, and thoughtful. Goldman's crassness in 1939 was evidently that of a downright man who wanted to say plainly and bluntly what he thought the position of his own side came down to. Soon Goldman, Morrow, and a number of others, including Jean van Heijenoort, Trotsky's secretary for seven years, became convinced that events were falsifying the perspective of "the Fourth International" (which at this time, though it had activists in Europe and throughout the world, was, as an organisation, not much more than a sub-committee of the SWP). When Italian fascism fell in mid-1943 they began to face up to realities. Bourgeois democracy and Stalinism were the immediately powerful forces in Italy after two decades of fascist rule; the Trotskyists were a tiny force, facing immense difficulties. Trotsky had understood and written about the probability of illusions in bourgeois democracy being generated by fascism; he had counterposed to the ravings of Third Period Stalinism, for which "revolution" was everywhere and continuously imminent, a rational Marxist assessment of what it took to make a revolutionary situation (see chapter 9). Some of his general comments at the end of his life were vaguer. The Cannon group had "perspectives" for imminent European workers' revolution, as if it could be produced mechnically out of the war. Working-class experience and Marxist and Bolshevik theory said that a socialist revolution could not be made and consolidated just by a sudden upsurge of raw working-class anger against capitalism, but required preparatory education and organisation. The Cannonites implicitly had a view of revolution as emerging spontaneously from working-class economic grievances. They occasionally paid lip-service to Marxist ABCs by talking of the super-rapid growth of Trotskyist groups to leadership of the workers in Europe - in abstraction from any real perspectives for the evolution and self-development of working-class politics. This mixture - an implicit view of revolution as produced by raw rage, combined with a sectarian drive to "build the party" which would unblock the spontaneous revolutionary lava - would become the central characteristic of certain neo-Trotskyist currents, in Britain of the SLL-WRP and its splinters. The Cannonites at first rejected democratic slogans. Talking as if victory was assured to the Trotskyists, they wanted to and did exclude from the re-forming ranks of the Fourth International groups which did not share their views on the Russian question (see chapter 10). They were too busy trying to catch a little of the glory of "Trotsky's Red Army" to notice that mass Stalinist movements existed in Europe, or to think of what that implied for socialist revolution. It was all deeply unrealistic, and in fact ultra-left, with implicit underlying assumptions more akin to anarchism than Marxism. The Third-Period-style ultra-leftism and the millenarianism - the expectation that other and non-human forces such as "crisis" and "history" would push through the revolution - would feed off each other for decades, in varying combinations and changing situations. By contrast, the "Shachtmanite" Workers Party not only proposed more earth-grounded assessments of and responses to world events, but subjected the Cannonites to a running fire of criticism; and in 1943 and afterwards that criticism came to be echoed inside the SWP by Goldman and Morrow. They accused the SWP of ultra-leftism and unrealism, and of living on and purveying a lethal mixture of dogmatism and empirical opportunism. After the fall of Mussolini they advocated recognition of the realities of Europe and the use of democratic and transitional demands by the Trotskyists. Immediately, as in 1939-40, the political questions became snarled up with issues of party life and democratic procedure. Goldman and Morrow became an embittered opposition, and began, piecemeal and empirically, to see what the triumphs of Stalinism implied for the hopes of socialism in Europe; and they recognised the fact of Stalinist imperialism. There was a more eminent critic of the SWP's "softness" on Stalinism: Natalia Sedova, Trotsky's companion of 40 years, who still lived in Mexico and participated in the affairs of the movement. After the siege of Stalingrad, Natalia veered slowly towards the opposite fork of the political road to that taken by the "orthodox" Trotskyists. She began to find the fantasies and delusions about "Trotsky's Red Army" distasteful and nonsensical, but also politically dangerous: the Stalinist advance was a mortal threat to the European workers' prospects of socialism, Natalia began to insist. Natalia's pressure slowly produced a certain shift in emphasis. By the end of the war a Fourth International had been recreated in Europe. Real discussion developed - about what the future would be for Europe, the economic prospects for capitalism, assessment of the areas under Stalinist domination, and, once more, the nature of the USSR. The Workers Party considered itself a section of the Fourth International and was accepted by the Europeans as such; there were radical anti-Stalinist currents in the small European parties. Unity discussions took place between the WP and the SWP in 1946 and '47; a group from the SWP joined the WP (Goldman and some of his comrades; Morrow, expelled from the SWP, dropped away from politics), and then a group from the WP joined the SWP (C L R James and Raya Dunayevskaya and five or six dozen people). The Workers Party participated in the Second World Congress of the Fourth International in March 1948, which made a formal distinction in one of its documents between "revolutionary bureaucratic-collectivists" like the Workers Party and "reactionary" ones like Dwight Macdonald.
The three years between the end of the war and Tito's break with Stalin in July 1948 were an interregnum in the evolution of "orthodox" neo-Trotskyism, at the end of which, much depleted in forces, it returned to the millenarian course of 1942-5 and developed it into a whole new system of politics. Afterwards it would develop by way of fraying, partial recoils, and eccentric movements from the doctrinal clarity around the perspective of "Stalinist-led world revolution" which it had by the "Third World Congress" of 1951. In 1945-8, however, there was real discussion and real fluidity. The USSR's power had expanded enormously. In Eastern Europe, "Trotsky's Red Army" had repressed the workers and set up "coalition" regimes in which Stalinists had the key police-military, that is, state-controlling, ministries. Indigenous Yugoslav Stalinists won power in a long war against German occupiers, Croat fascists and Serbian monarchists. Having occupied Czechoslovakia and set up a "mixed" government, the Russian Army withdrew. Everywhere else (Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania) the Russian Army remained in occupation. Czechoslovakia had had a mass Communist movement before the war; the German Communist Party had been strong before 1933; nowhere else in these states were there strong CPs. There had been a strong independent Marxist tradition in Poland, but Stalinism had destroyed it, formally dissolving the CP in 1938, shooting its leaders who had taken refuge in Moscow from Polish military dictatorship. A new Polish party had to be created for Russia's purposes in 1942 after Germany invaded the USSR. Everywhere, parties bred to rule were created out of old CPers, turncoat Social-Democrats, and nondescript careerists. The top-ranking Stalinists returned from Moscow "with pipes in their mouths" (like Stalin), as the saying went. After 1949, most of those Stalinist leaders who had been at home in the underground, and not in Moscow, during the war would be purged, tried for imaginary crimes, and hanged or jailed. The bourgeoisie was weak or had been heavily discredited or smashed by the Nazis. Chauvinism akin to the tribalism of the Dark Ages, and to Hitlerism, characterised these Stalinist-run states in their relations with each other. The USSR kept the areas of Poland it had taken in 1939 and gave to Poland large areas of Russian-occupied Germany in return. Ten million Germans were cleared out of that territory at gunpoint, and with appalling suffering and many casualties. Three million Germans were driven out of the Sudetenland in the Czechoslovak state. Large numbers of Hungarians, too, were driven from Czechoslovakia. How to evaluate these states? Plainly they, like the Baltic states in 1940, and the areas of former Poland Stalin controlled, were being "sovietised". Nobody paying attention and reading newspapers could doubt it. If the "orthodox" Trotskyists did doubt it, it was because this "sovietisation" presented them with all the questions that they had been avoiding since Stalingrad, or since 1939, or... since the Stalinist bureaucracy established its self-defined rule two decades earlier. The questions were writ too large to tolerate evasion, now that the USSR was the second power in the world, controlling a giant empire. The neo-Trotskyists would try to evade them in what was by now the traditional way: juggling with words and definitions, whose meanings were merely shifted. The "orthodox" attitude on the Stalinisation of eastern Poland and the Baltic states had now to be reassessed. Why should it not be applied to the states now being turned into replicas of the USSR, and matching it for horrors with such things as the mass deportation of over ten million Germans? If the same approach were now applied to the vastly greater Stalinist expansion, would that not destroy whatever coherence remained to the "orthodox" position, compelling the neo-Trotskyists to see police-state repression of whole nations as somehow simultaneously being a form of socialist emancipation? But how, if the movement were not to fall into a gibbering lunacy, could it not be applied? Not applying it would disarrange the "orthodox" neo-Trotskyist position as much as applying it, only differently. The hard fact was that anti-capitalist revolutions were being made. However the Stalinist transformations in Eastern Europe were defined, they were that, anti-bourgeois revolutions. For those who continued to see the USSR as a degenerated workers' state, the assimilation of the other countries into its model had to be defined as some variant of a workers' revolution - an anti-worker, counter-revolutionary, bureaucratic workers' revolution. The labour movements were being subverted and destroyed by the Stalinist police states, and replaced by totalitarian entities in the service of the totalitarianising states. The working class was being subjugated at least as much as under fascism, and more than under the ramshackle pre-war loosely authoritarian regimes such as that of Hungary, for example. But if a categorisation as workers' states of the new Stalinist systems now congealing in eight East European countries and North Korea - and by 1948 the Maoist armies were on the road to control of all mainland China - was to be rejected, then how could such a rejection not logically imply that the whole "degenerated workers' state" assessment of the USSR was untenable? If the dilemma were resolved by defining the new Stalinist states as being of the same nature as the USSR, that is as being workers' states of some sort, then another and more fundamental question was posed (though I don't think it ever was posed explicitly in those terms): what then was the theory according to which the USSR, with or without its empire of satellites, was a workers' state? The answer, "Trotsky's theory" - which became the "orthodox" Trotskyist answer, meaning that nothing basic had changed so long as nationalised property remained - would satisfy only those who had forgotten or not understood the whole trend of Trotsky's thought in the 1930s and what the terms of his workers' state theory had been. The Soviet Union, even apart from its satellites and replicas, could not in 1945 be considered a workers' state according to the approach indicated in Trotsky's evolving and constantly-revised assessments in the 1930s. The bureaucracy had proved itself in the hardest possible test to be no mere malignant tumour on society, no collective bandit seizing the economy for a short transitional period in the reflux of the workers' revolution before it gave way either to capitalism or to renewed workers' power, no freak in the historical interstices between workers' power and capitalist restoration or workers' renewal. Events had made Trotsky's old theory impossible: a new one had to be developed and within the old name it was: that, as we have seen, came to be Bruno Rizzi's thesis of progressive bureaucratic collectivism as a stage on the road to socialism, renamed as "degenerated workers' states". Only a modified version of Trotsky's name for his very different theory of the degenerated workers' state would remain. The change took time. Plain facts that could not be evaded had cancelled out the entire structure of reasoning according to which Trotsky had hung on to the "degenerated workers' state" theory in 1939-40. The facts of the mid and late 40s pointed imperatively to other conclusions, those provisionally indicated by Trotsky then: that the USSR was a species of new class society. The question in the discussion after 1944-5 was whether the collapse of Trotskyism into flat "totalitarian economism" - the idea that state ownership, or, in the given case, totalitarian state ownership, supposedly rooted, directly or more loosely (China, etc.) in the October Revolution, was necessarily working-class - would spread and prevail, or be reversed. There was a large body of classical Marxist writing against the "totalitarian-economist" idea. It answered no real questions, but begged every question of working-class socialism. Such a reduction of the criteria to statised economy was always the "bottom line", the hard-fact basis, of Trotsky's theory. Trotsky was dealing with something new in history and compelled to measure it by comparison with known phenomena and by the pattern of previously existing modern class societies. Even so, his denial of the autonomy of the autocracy after 1928 was wrong; was by the mid-1930s blamably wrong. The war-time fantasies were an abandonment of the responsibility to think realistically about the world. But not even the war-time fantasies about "Trotsky's Red Army" completely and flatly replaced the working class with some other agency. The "Red" Army was supposed to stimulate working-class action. There was still some rational notion of ends and means hovering, or flapping loosely in the air, around the "Trotsky's Red Army" fantasies. Now there were only hard brute facts. For a period, the hard facts undid the millenarianism of 1942-5. It needs to be stressed and kept in mind that the people involved were sincere and honest advocates of working-class socialism. They understood - and in a way that later generations of neo-Trotskyists often would not - the monstrous aberration from any sort of socialism that the Stalinist system was. With fascism a recent and vivid memory, they understood the horror of even contemplating the notion that the fascist-style states that the USSR was erecting in Eastern Europe (in part, with police forces staffed by recent fascists) could be accepted as a variant of workers' state. But they needed to make sense of the world. They needed to ward off the conclusion of despair some drew from the repeated defeats of the working class, the idea that the working class could not play the role indicated in Marxist theory. The lessons of history proved the opposite - the Paris Commune, the 1917 revolution, the workers' struggles in Spain in the 1930s, and many others - lessons that are indelible. But they saw depression and defeats of the working class, side by side with victories against the bourgeoisie by people calling themselves "communists" - victories that achieved as much as remained of the October 1917 Revolution. Revolutionary Stalinism beckoned as well as threatened. They needed to preserve hope for socialism, and paradoxically many of them - like the notorious US general who said he had destroyed a Vietnamese city "in order to save it" - preserved their hope for socialism in this epoch by killing the old idea and perspective of socialism and substituting for it something else (for "now", for "this stage") . These dilemmas opened a period of discussion in the reorganising Fourth International. Max Shachtman could at the end of the war write that the "degenerated workers' state" thesis was withering and dying. He was wrong, but that seemed to be the trend. (He was right too: the last echoes of Trotsky's workers' state theory were dying; it would be replaced, by quite different theories. The death of the old workers' state was surely the only consistent and logical development of Trotsky's final position. In June 1946 the international centre, newly re-located in Europe, declared for the withdrawal of the USSR army - what had been so recently and for so long "Trotsky's Red Army" - from Europe. The 1948 Congress document talked about "defending what remained of the conquests of October 1917" in place of "defending the Soviet Union". This reflected a very much changed mood.
Illuminating here is the case of the British Revolutionary Communist Party. At its peak around 1945 this organisation had 500 members; thereafter it steadily declined. By 1946 its leaders, Jock Haston, Millie Lee and Ted Grant, had provisionally decided that the USSR, its satellites and its Yugoslav replica, were of a similar class character - state-capitalist. After mulling this over for a while they changed their minds. The USSR and the others were, they still thought, of the same sort, but they were... workers' states. The RCP became the major proponents of this position in the Fourth-Internationalist movement, representing the opposite pole to the Workers Party, which was arguing that Stalinism was a form of class system, bureaucratic-collectivist (the WP majority) or state-capitalist (the minority). The RCP held that the Stalinist satellites partook of the same class nature as the USSR and were thus workers' states. For this phenomenon a new adjective would be coined: they had not degenerated, as the USSR had, from a workers' revolution, so these were "deformed" workers' states. The majority supported neither pole, and the RCP were much despised and much condemned for their position. The Shachtmanites said that the RCP were at least logical; the other supporters of the thesis that the USSR remained a workers' state spurned the RCP for creating a reductio ad absurdum of it. The RCP leaders were regarded as people who had gutted Trotskyism and bestowed on Stalinism undeserved recognition as a progressive anti-capitalist force. Ernest Mandel and others dealt with the issue by declaring the satellites - most of them occupied, except Czechoslovakia, by Russian troops, and with governments dominated by Stalinists - to be state-capitalist, while the USSR remained a workers' state. Mandel, the major academic theoretician of neo-Trotskyism from the late 1940s, managed to combine these two positions with a third: great enthusiasm for the victorious Chinese Maoists.
The March 1948 second world congress, in Paris, consisted of 50 delegates and represented 22 organisations in 19 countries, including the Workers Party of the USA. The shape of the world which would last with secondary modifications until the collapse of the USSR 43 years later was now plain. Capitalism had stabilised and begun to revive, though much of Europe was still in ruins. The main changes still to work their way through would come from a range of anti-colonial struggles. Just before the Congress, on 25 February 1948, the Stalinists in Czechoslovakia organised a coup which was the last act in the Stalinisation of all of Russian-occupied Eastern Europe - a coup in which mass working-class support allowed the Stalinists, who already controlled the key ministries, to stage something, with mass demonstrations, like a parody of a workers' revolution. The tone of the 1948 congress resolutions is that of defeat and perplexity. [The Congress launched the slogan for the transformation of the small Trotskyist propaganda groups (some very small) into "parties of mass working-class struggle". The same call had been made by a previous conference in 1946, but this time it was made in the face of a major decline of all the groups. About half the membership of the French group, which was the largest in Europe, quit soon after the Congress, and its paper, previously weekly, appeared only three times between April and November 1948; the British RCP was also on the point of collapse].
The USSR remained a workers' state. How, why? "The social revolution still lives in what remains of the conquests of October [i.e. the nationalised property] and in the vanguard layers of the working class", declared the congress document. Fourteen years after the start of the Great Terror, and twenty years after the consolidation of totalitarian rule, the idea of the "vanguard layers of the working class" still being able to determine the class character of the state was surreal. The congress resolution placed much stress on the "instability of the social relations" and the need to study the trends by which "the progressive character of the Russian economy... tends to become eliminated by the bureaucracy" and "the possibilities of reaction and regression in all fields, including the economic, within the framework of these [nationalised] property relations, have been shown to be infinitely vaster than anyone could have thought". With the experience of Nazi rule fresh in their minds, the congress delegates described the USSR as "the most totalitarian police dictatorship in history". All the welter of qualifications and contrived arguments reflected minds at the end of their tether, about to flip back into the plain "totalitarian economist" definition of a workers' state by nationalised property alone. In fact the congress solved nothing. By holding to the position that the USSR was a workers' state it indicated how the mainstream would solve the problem: but the congress itself stood between two open doors on either side of that final bivouacking of the old Trotskyist movement. Within three months the "orthodox" neo-Trotskyists would troop - no, stampede - through the one marked "Stalinism is revolutionary". Tito's Yugoslavia was a fully-formed smaller replica of the USSR: if, as the congress said, it was capitalist, then it was a fascist state. Tito had won power with no dependence on the Russian army. In July 1948 Yugoslavia and the USSR fell out violently. Yugoslavia resisted the predatory - imperialist - relations that the USSR imposed on the satellites. Overnight, for the Russian propagandists, Tito became a fascist, a long-time "agent" in the Communist movement, and the new Trotsky. Tito acted to repress pro-Stalin people in his own state. A war of propaganda opened up. The Stalinists called for the removal of Tito. Russian invasion seemed a distinct possibility. Tito had a mass base of support, and appealed to the Yugoslav people. Not immediately, but over time, the Tito dictatorship, while retaining all the Stalinist basics, including the Byzantine cult of the leader, loosened up, and organs of (firmly controlled) popular representation appeared. The Yugoslavs criticised Russian Stalinism: they would soon designate the USSR as state-capitalist, and the "orthodox" Trotskyists would polemicise with them in defence of the working-class character of Stalin's state; they would denounce the orthodox Trotskyists for being soft on the USSR! Now millenarianism - looking to other forces half-miraculously to make the revolution for the workers - came back to the "official" Trotskyists with a force and an all-conquering logic that showed the period of "Trotsky's Red Army" to have been a mere experimental half-rehearsal of a half-written play. Immediately the leaders of the Fourth International recognised that what on its merits had seemed a Yugoslav fascist, capitalist state was really a socialist state. All Tito's typical Stalinist talk of socialism and workers' power, which had been dismissed as cant at the March 1948 congress, was now understood to be good stuff. The recent fascist, capitalist state was to be supported against the degenerated workers' state. Everything was redefined. An open letter was quickly dispatched to the "comrades" at the head of the Yugoslav CP. Speculation on the possibility of fishing in the pro-Tito current which emerged in the Western left were part of it, but this was a genuine new "revelation". At the congress, the "world revolution" had seemed to be in a cul-de-sac, apart from the colonial struggles. Now everything was on the move. By April 1949 the International Executive Committee was ready to recognise that the countries where Russian Stalinism had overthrown capitalism and created societies in its own image were after all workers' states - deformed workers' states. They had adopted the position of the long-despised and much-derided RCP majority. Their all reshaping idea now was that they should not be "sectarian" towards the "living revolution". None of the implication that had led them to despise the RCP had disappeared. Now they drew conclusions that repelled even the British. Alone of all the Trotskyist currents in the world the British RCP, in a front page article in Socialist Appeal by Jock Haston, had welcomed the Stalinists' final coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948: now Haston could with justice criticise the "orthodox" for Tito worship! Acceptance of the "living revolution" in Yugoslavia toppled the "orthodox" neo-Trotskyists over into acceptance of Stalinism as revolutionary. Now they saw that the Russian bureaucracy had played a tremendous international revolutionary role - as in the USSR after 1928. So had Tito played a great revolutionary role; so would Mao; so would others. Implicitly, this acceptance of the revolutionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy internationally was a long-ranging backward revision of Trotsky's view of the bureaucracy, and implied a much-needed understanding of its independent role after 1928; but it was accompanied by positive acceptance of the Stalinists' new international achievements, and led not to a criticism and correction of Trotsky's conclusion that the USSR was a workers' state but to a thoroughgoing revision of his account of how and why it was a degenerated workers' state. The label "workers' state" was kept from Trotsky; little else was. In the new millenarian world-view, the socialist revolution was moving forwards. It had made tremendous strides in the suppression of capitalism. Hesitantly and with zig-zags, the "orthodox" had levered the "workers' state" theory up away from Trotsky's whole method of analysis, so that eventually it rested on a single point, nationalised property. Then, pivoting on that single point, the theory was turned round so that it came to be, not a one-sided version of what Trotsky had argued, but in many respects its opposite. A nationalised economy defined a workers' state. The Stalinists created nationalised economies. Therefore, the Stalinists were a force who made workers' states. Therefore, for some, Stalinist power defined a workers' state, and was in fact the political core of it, nationalised economy being only the economic result - as in Trotsky's theory nationalised economy was the economic result demonstrating the continued vitality of traces from the 1917 workers' revolution. China could be seen by many of the "orthodox" as a "workers' state" as soon as the Stalinists took power, long before they got round to comprehensive statisation of the economy - and, in the terms of the "orthodox", rightly so! Though the "orthodox" still upheld a norm of democratic workers' power, what they meant by "workers' state" in immediate politics was a state where the workers were crushed uninhibitedly by a monopolistic bureaucracy. The inversion of meanings was as complete as any that Stalin had worked. The "orthodox" Trotskyists had saved their "belief in socialism" by altering their socialist perspective and by redefining socialism - for now - out of recognition; now they regained their vision of a world revolution by raising it above and separated from the real labour movements. They hitched their hopes to the Stalinist movement, and cut loose from the only possible agency of real socialism, the working class. The wide variety of Trotskyist groups permuting basic positions proves how much freedom there is to juggle in the framework of the "new Trotskyism" defined in 1949-51. Yet there was in all the strands a logical connection with the basic theory on the Soviet Union. If the USSR was any sort of workers' state or advance beyond capitalism and towards socialism, then the states modelled after it by the "Red Army" or Tito or Mao were advances beyond capitalism - perhaps only a first stage of advance, but a decisive one. History had found its way out of the impasse of the 1930s. One could not be "subjective" about it. In plain language, this meant that other forces were doing at least the first stage of the job that was the workers' in Marxist theory. In backward countries, the solution, pro tem, to the crisis of leadership of the working class was to accept that history, for now, had dispensed with the working class.
In the next few years after 1948, the "orthodox" neo-Trotskyists would reconceptualise the world as one of ongoing struggle between the proletarian class camp - the USSR's empire and its allies - and imperialism. Russian imperialism was revolutionary anti-imperialism. All the signs were turned round. Trotskyism experienced as profound an inner transformation of ideas as the Communist International after 1923. We have seen that one reason for the great difficulties that Trotsky experienced with understanding Stalinism was that he had thought of the autocracy's rule not as a regime "in and of itself" but as a freak short-term phenomenon of transition. Since the expected rupturing of forms (of state property by the bourgeoisie, or of bureaucratic political power by the working class) had not happened, only reconceptualisation of the USSR opened a way out of the cul-de-sac. Mesmerised by the survival and success and the challenge to capitalism Stalinism embodied, and fearful of innovation, Trotsky's followers, when they came to the unavoidable reconceptualisation, veered off in the opposite direction to that indicated by Trotsky in 1939: to critical but positive reassessment of Stalinism. Between Tito's break with Stalin and their April 1949 decision that the states of the Russian empire were all workers' states, they performed a spectacular reconceptualisation. The only changes had been the transition there from the looser post-1945 regimes to the full-scale airtight Stalinist totalitarian terror system. Yet what the second world congress had defined as state-capitalist systems, with fascist-style regimes, became progressive variants of working-class rule, and would be designated as "in transition to socialism". Regimes in which, since 1945 the fascist-like destruction of labour movements, of civil liberties and of all workers' rights by Russian quisling regimes had been observed, condemned and summed up in the resolutions of the 1948 congress, were now "reconceptualised". You would have to look to the most spectacular voltes-faces of the Stalintern for a parallel switch. Here there were not the complexities and difficulties that Trotsky had unavoidably faced in analysing the stage-by-stage degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Evolving, open-ended, seeming to be radically unstable by all available measures, the USSR could not look to Trotsky as it does in retrospect to those who know the whole story and approach it as history. The 1948-9 "official" Trotskyists approached their analysis from the other end. They had seen the systems for something like what they were: and then they "saw" them again in a blinding light of revelation. So far had norms and standards been pulped. For the satellite states the neo-Trotskyists advocated the same programme as for the USSR: they did not abandon the working class. For the autonomous "workers' states" - Yugoslavia, China, Cuban - they would not do that. They would adopt the posture of loyal critics with suggestions to make for reform. When some Chinese Trotskyists fled to Hong Kong from the Maoists - those who did not were killed or incarcerated for three or four decades - Michel Pablo, secretary of the new "Fourth International", dismissed them as "refugees from a revolution". Comradely open letters were written to the victorious Chinese Stalinists, too - and would be written to the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as late as 1962. [It was 1969 before the Mandel Fourth International came out for a "political revolution" in Mao's China.] Bowing down before success was part of it; so was a supine attitude to history that was the opposite of that appropriate to representatives of a revolutionary class at bay. The reconstituted Fourth International consisted of very small groups (mostly only a few dozens strong) with an international leadership dependent on the bestowed authority of James P Cannon raised as a literary apparatus of commentators and fantasy strategists above a very weak movement. As it turned out, they would not long remain tractable to Cannon's bidding or long let themselves be held in check by Cannon's "old Trotskyist" inhibitions. The implications drawn from the 1948-9 turn and its working-through were now that the transition to world socialism was moving forwards of its own momentum. It was surging forwards and seizing on and using any organisational instrument to hand. As Ernest Mandel put it in January 1951: "The worldwide revolutionary upsurge continues to expand and deepen, even if between 1948 and 1950 it saw a temporary retreat in Europe: today it pulls all Asia in its wake, tomorrow it will cross the Atlantic and attack Capital in its last bastion. The development of this upsurge is the almost automatic product of the extreme decomposition of capitalism. It is in the absence of a sufficiently powerful revolutionary leadership that this revolutionary upsurge temporarily takes new and transitional forms, like those we have seen in Yugoslavia and we see now blooming in Asia. "For ten years the advance of the world revolution has taken the most diverse and unexpected forms, the most outlandish and confusing combinations... Not to understand this concrete development of the world revolution, and to retrench behind schema of an ideal' world revolution, is to turn one's back on the real movement in the name of a chimera, to push communism back from the level of science to that of utopia" ("Ten Theses"). There was an ongoing, evolutionary-revolutionary, process. It no longer depended on the workers, at least not for now. Where democracy and every sort of self-determination or self-rule had been eliminated - not because to the neo-Trotskyists it was undesirable; but events had proved that for now it was inessential and unnecessary for the creation of this sort of workers' state - so now too was the action of the working class itself. Even the action of revolutionary socialists substituting for the working class - which would itself be far from Marxism - was eliminated: in its place were peasant armies or the Russian army. For Trotsky the bureaucracy was a corrupt, usurping stop-gap locum: for neo-Trotskyists it came to be the prime agency. The evolution-revolution was an ongoing, self-moving process, raised out from reality and abstracted from the actualities of Stalinist revolutions, which in true Third-Period, or religious prophet, style were merely phenomenal expressions of the Grand Design. This process was seen as something that moved as though "striving" teleologically towards some goal already determined. The "transition to socialism" was moving forward, and continuously, of its own momentum, taking many and varied forms and with varying types of protagonist. The ongoing World Revolution, as if impatient with delay, abstracted from actual revolutions. The actual revolutions were given the name of proletarian revolution, but in the old meanings of such words they were nameless and classless - manifestations of a process elevated into a shadowy historical actor, a spectre stalking the Earth. This was ideologising the "historical process", rationalising and prettifying reality, not Marxist analysis. A man like Ernest Mandel rationalised "the historical process", including Stalinism as, earlier, Karl Kautsky had rationalised the doings of the dominant parliamentary and trade union leaders in German Social-Democracy. Natalia Sedova wrote bitter words when she broke with the new Fourth International: "In 1932 and 1933, the Stalinists, in order to justify their shameless capitulation to Hitlerism, declared that it would matter little if the fascists came to power because socialism would come after and through the rule of fascism. Only dehumanized brutes without a shred of socialist thought or spirit could have argued this way. Now, notwithstanding the revolutionary aims which animate you, you maintain that the despotic Stalinist reaction which has triumphed in Europe is one of the roads through which socialism will eventually come. This view marks an irremediable break with the profoundest convictions always held by our movement and which I continue to share. "Most insupportable of all is the position on the war to which you have committed yourselves. The third world war which threatens humanity confronts the revolutionary movement with the most difficult problems, the most complex situations, the gravest decisions. Our position can be taken only after the most earnest and freest discussions. But in the face of all the events of recent years, you continue to advocate, and to pledge the entire movement, to the defense of the Stalinist state. You are even now supporting the armies of Stalinism in the war which is being endured by the anguished Korean people. I cannot and will not follow you in this. "I know very well how often you repeat that you are critizing Stalinism and fighting it. But the fact is that your criticism and your fight lose their value and can yield no results because they are determined by and subordinated to your position of defense of the Stalinist state. Whoever defends this regime of barbarous oppression, regardless of the motives, abandons the principles of socialism and internationalism." What might be called the peak experience the clearest possible proof that the picture painted here is not false or artificial, was the neo-Trotskyists' preparations for war. A Third World War was almost universally expected. Instead, the USSR developed an atom bomb, and the era in history characterised by a balance of nuclear terror began - though that is a view in hindsight. In June 1950 a proxy war began in Korea, when the Stalinist North invaded the South. World War seemed imminent - all-out, partially nuclear war. What did it mean for socialists? Basing themselves on the experience of Stalinist resistance movements in the Second World War, and on the militant discipline of the non-Russian Communist Parties, the apparatus of the Fourth International developed the following thesis: a Third World War will in fact trigger the European socialist revolution. The "Red Army" and the indigenous Communist Parties will conquer Europe and make that revolution. It will be a combined War-Revolution. Michel Pablo, who was by now the main international leader of the current, would speculate that this would lead to "centuries of deformed workers' states". What others feared as Armageddon, and what Trotsky, writing about the prospect of a world war after the Second World War, said would be "the grave of civilisation", was for these millenarians, now they had hitched themselves firmly to the Stalinist empire and its world-conquering mission, the socialist revolution. The Red Flag decorated with a picture of Trotsky in military uniform in front of a hammer and sickle, and the red flag waving behind the four horsemen of the Apocalypse - fire, famine, pestilence and war - would have properly emblematised this vision. Michel Pablo explained in 1949: "The two notions of Revolution and of War, far from being opposed or distinguished as two markedly different stages of evolution, are brought closer and interlaced to the point of being merged in place and time. In their place, it is the notion of the Revolution-War, the War-Revolution, which emerges, and on which should be based the perspectives and the orientation of the revolutionary Marxists of our epoch. "Such language may perhaps shock the lovers of dreams and pacifist' bluster, or those who are already lamenting the apocalyptic fate of the world which they foresee as following an atomic war or an expansion of Stalinism. But these sensitive hearts have no place among the militants, and especially among the revolutionary Marxist cadres of this epoch, the most terrible of all, where the sharpness of the class struggle has risen to its paroxysm. It is objective reality which pushes this dialectical complex of the Revolution-War to the first place, which implacably destroys pacifist' dreams, and which leaves no respite in the simultaneous gigantic deployment of the forces of the Revolution and of War, and their battle to the death... "To the efforts of the bourgeoisie and of imperialism to mobilise the masses in their war against the USSR, the people's democracies', China, and the other Asiatic revolutions under way, and to crush the Communist Parties and the revolutionary movement of their respective countries, broad layers will respond by revolt, open struggle, armed struggle, the new Resistance, but this time with an infinitely clearer class character. It is possible that on the basis of these mass reactions, and of the chaos and aggravation that such a war would rapidly create, different Communist Parties will see themselves obliged to undertake, pushed by the masses, pushed by their own base, a struggle which would go beyond the soviet bureaucracy's own objectives. "Such a war, far from stopping the struggle which is currently going on to the disadvantage of imperialism, would intensify it and bring it to its paroxysm. It would shatter all balance, pulling all forces into the struggle, accelerating the process which has already begun namely that of the convulsive transformation of our society, which will only subside with the triumph of international socialism. The fate of Stalinism will be decided precisely in this period of gigantic overturns. "People who despair of the fate of humanity because Stalinism survives and even wins victories are cutting down History to their measure. They had wished that the whole process of transformation of capitalist society into socialism should be accomplished in the span of their short lives, so that they could be rewarded for their efforts for the Revolution. As for us, we reaffirm what we wrote in the first article we devoted to the Yugoslav affair: This transformation will probably take a whole historical period of some centuries, which will be filled in the meantime with transitional forms and regimes between capitalism and socialism, necessarily distanced from pure' forms and norms... "Those who think they can respond to the anxiety and the embarrassment of some people at the so-called victories of Stalinism by minimising the objectively revolutionary significance of these facts are obliged to take refuge in a sectarianism, anti-Stalinist at all costs, which scarcely conceals under its aggressive appearance its lack of confidence in the fundamental revolutionary process of our epoch. This process is the most certain pledge for the inevitable final defeat of Stalinism, and it will be realised all the more rapidly, the quicker the overthrow of capitalism and of imperialism progresses and gains a bigger and bigger part of the world". ("Where Are We Going?") Pablo restated the perspective in a pamphlet of August 1952, "The Coming War". The war would be "that of united imperialism, led by Washington, against the Revolution in all its forms... The forces which threaten the capitalist regime are... those of the Revolution in all its forms: the non-capitalist states, the colonial revolution, the international revolutionary movement. In all these elements is expressed... directly or indirectly, in more or less clear and conscious forms, the fundamental, objective process of the world socialist Revolution of our century". This drum-tight vision of apocalyptic Stalinist-led world revolution would change as tension relaxed in 1953 and after, and the world settled into the long years of nuclear stalemate. The method of relying on forces other than the working class would not change, though the forces would change and proliferate. The pattern has been set out, and there is no point in tracing it further. The number of permutations it produced is immense.
One break in the pattern, which created its own kaleidoscopic variations, remains to be indicated. Against the logical drift there would be recoil. The Pablo-Mandel current itself would recoil from the wild speculations of 1949-52. These were sincere socialists and anti-Stalinists, however inadequate their ideas seem with hindsight. The most important recoil was that of James P Cannon. In 1953 he led a split in the Fourth International - the mono-factional and very shrunken rump that had in effect refounded itself as a different movement in mid-1951 at the so-called "Third World Congress". It was an utterly incoherent recoil, which kept all the basic ideas of the 1951 congress but demanded more emphasis on the building of Trotskyist parties. Cannon, who had pioneered millenarianism in the 1940s, reshaped the Fourth International after the war, and erected the "world leaders", now recoiled from them. 1953 was an incoherent and hysterical lurch towards what had been "Shachtmanism" in the early 1940s - the emphasis on the centrality of building Trotskyist parties. But Cannon and his comrades were held as by a chain to over a decade of confused history that had culminated in the "Third World Congress". In his own way, incoherently, Cannon tried to do what Shachtman and his comrades had begun to do in 1939. There is evidence that Cannon thought he could "lift his finger" and Pablo would fall. Cannon was mistaken. The significance of Cannon's break (joined by groups in Britain and France) is that all coherence was lost. Like ripples spreading out from a stone dropped in still water, the reverberations spread. Groups proliferated, some quite mad. A useful distinction in sorting out these groups is between people honestly trying to understand the world and trying to function politically - and both Cannon and his opponents in 1953 were that - and the charlatans. An increasingly conspicuous section of the neo-Trotskyist movement consisted of charlatans, groups like the French "Lambertists", the later British "Healyites", the Morenists in Latin America - people who would say or do anything for catchpenny advantage, for whom the old idea that the political programme builds the party had been inverted and for whom the exigencies of party-building dictated politics and "programme".
"History does nothing; it possesses no immense wealth', it wages no battles'. It is man, real living man, that does all that, that possesses and fights; history' is not a person apart, using man as a means for its own particular aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims." Marx and Engels, The Holy Family.
Trotsky tried to make sense of the bureaucratic-collectivist Stalinist society in terms of classical Marxism and the 1917 Bolshevik version of those ideas. His tardiness in drawing the sharp and clear conclusions which can be seen now as necessary wreaked havoc with the Marxism he set out to defend. He was forced to follow in the steps of Stalinism, putting his own gloss on events while critically accommodating to the brute reality of the USSR. In Trotskyism and then neo-Trotskyism there was a transformation, often out of recognition, of the ideas and language of Marxism. Throughout the 1930s, Trotsky stretched and adapted the old Bolshevik and Marxist ideas and terminology to accommodate the new things, adding qualifying adjectives and using terms with implied quote-marks, such as "caste" for the USSR's rulers. Beyond very narrow limits, such a procedure could not but corrupt meaning and confuse definition. By the end it had become a scholastic game or even a form of juggling with words akin to word magic and superstition. For example, what more than superstition was the idea that to hold back from giving the USSR bureaucracy a name - ruling class - implied in all Trotsky's concrete descriptions of its reality would somehow ward off the disturbing implications of that reality for the old Marxist schemes of history? The toll taken by this attempt to "save the old theory" was that the meanings of most of the terms of that theory were changed. For example, "defence of the USSR" against a small non-imperialist nation, in the USSR-Finnish war, the "defence" that led anti-Stalinists to back those whom Trotsky had called "the rapists in the Kremlin" in their attempt to take over Finland, was not the same thing as the old "defence of the USSR against imperialist attack". Within the old terminology, there took place what in other fields has been called a "shift of paradigm". This happened again and again as events shunted brutally into each and every one of Trotsky's theoretical positions on Stalinism, pushing them off what had seemed solid ground. Trotsky was working within a false theoretical frame from as early as the mid-1920s, when he saw the Stalinist "centre" as a minor threat compared to the Bukharinite "right wing". Trotsky's frame and the impact of reality on it combined to create doctrinal havoc with the very basics of communism. It was not enough that Trotsky conscientiously restated those basics from time to time. The fact that Stalinist society, calling itself socialist, was misidentified by its most bitter critics as a workers' state, inevitably debased the meaning of all the key words involved. There was a further infusion of new meanings into old words as Stalinism spread after 1944. This process in Trotskyism paralleled what Stalinism did to Marxism and represented a degree of ideological conquest by Stalinism of its most consistent critics. By around 1950, neo-Trotskyism had stood on its head the Communist Manifesto and its basic ideas, that is, the foundation of Marxism as it was in 1917.
1) Marx and Engels made socialism "scientific" by converting it from a moral scheme, counterposed to capitalism, into a logical, although revolutionary, dialectical development from material preconditions created by capitalism. In neo-Trotskyism (that is, mainstream revolutionary socialism, for a whole era) a pre-Marxist sectarian rejection of capitalism on a world scale, and an identification with Stalinist states as a progressive alternative (because they were anti-capitalist), had replaced this idea of the relationship of capitalism to socialism. The idea that capitalism (and even on some levels imperialism) is progressive was excised from Marxism. So was the idea that to reject and negate the progressive work of capitalism (technology, bourgeois civilisation, the creation of the working class) is sectarian and backward-looking. Marxists reverted to the spirit of those who in the mid-nineteenth century wanted to go backwards from industrialism and of those against whom Lenin polemicised for their "petty-bourgeois" desire to unscramble imperialist concentrations of industry back to an earlier stage of capitalism. The neo-Trotskyist idea that the Stalinist states were "in transition to socialism", following in the tracks of Stalin's "socialism in one country", turned elementary Marxism on its head. The "movement" was from the periphery to the centre. This was the politics of Marx's anarchist-populist opponent Mikhail Bakunin, not of Marx himself, or Lenin or Trotsky. Even reactionary alternatives to capitalism, and not Stalinist ones alone, were seen as progressive, even though they destroyed the fruits of world civilisation since the Renaissance. World history was seen teleologically as a process with an outcome - world socialism - mechanically fixed in advance, irrespective of what living women and men did or failed to do.
2) The patently false notion that capitalism had reached its historic end was used in the spirit of utopian socialists who felt they had discovered "the last word". That Stalinism was replacing capitalism was supposedly proof of this proposition. Acceptance of the mid-nineteenth century idea of socialist colony-building, which would compete with advanced capitalism and replace it, was at the heart of post-1951 "Third World Congress" neo-Trotskyism - acceptance of Stalinism as representing a viable "transition to socialism", albeit one that would eventually need drastic working-class reform, or even "political revolution", to perfect it.
3) The idea that the proletarian revolution is made by the proletariat and cannot be made for them had been displaced by the idea of a locum acting to create, if not socialism, then the first decisive step towards socialism - the creation of a "workers' state". Working class rule was seen to inhere in the forms of bureaucratically nationalised property. A totalitarian economism - a fetish of nationalised economy, separated off from all the social and political conditions that might give it a working class socialist character - was substituted for the traditional politics of Marxism. Actual working-class political rule - "to win the battle for democracy and make the workers the ruling class", as the Communist Manifesto put it - was pushed to the margins and relegated to the future by the ongoing "revolutionary process" that was spreading worker-enslaving and labour-movement-destroying "workers' states" across the globe. That "process" was the first and immediate stage of the socialist revolution. Workers' rule would be a second and subsequent stage. The old communist centrality of democracy - even during the dictatorship of the proletariat - went. Democracy was a desirable extra. It could be done without in the "workers' revolution", at least in the first and immediate stage. The idea of socialist revolution was detached from Marx's notion of the organised, self-aware working class as the force that could make it, and reduced to millenarianism, the hope for a superhuman agent of liberation. Marxists became millenarians scanning the horizon for the revolutionary agency. Again, Stalinism was central; it was the prototype of the non-proletarian force which nonetheless, through a perverse twist of history, becomes the agent of proletarian progress.
4) Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto saw the development of the organised, conscious communist political party as integrally interlinked with the self-development of the whole working class. The communists would "represent the future of the movement in the movement of the present". This was replaced by the notion of a "party" self-defined by the possession of an esoteric doctrine and revelation. The Marxists were those who could see the hidden and secret process leading to a socialist future within the horrors of Stalinism. Having once discovered that truth, their job was primarily to gain enough forces, anyhow, to present themselves as "the leadership" to the elemental working-class revolt guaranteed by the decay of capitalism. Neo-Trotskyism, rationalising from Stalinist reality and building its "revolutionary perspectives" around it, regressed back behind the political level attained in 1848 at the dawn of Marxism.