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Reply to RCIT on Permanent Revolution, Bourgeois Democracy and Social Imperialism

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The RCIT (Revolutionary Communist International Tendency), in response to our article ‘Russia, China and the Unfinished Permanent Revolution”, claims that we, the Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC), don’t understand Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. On the contrary we do understand it and apply it as he did himself. It is the RCIT that tries to turn Permanent Revolution into a pseudo-Trotskyist cover for its adaptation to social imperialism. Social Imperialism is the democratic petty bourgeois policy that imperialism can be progressive if reformed by the mobilisation of the proletariat. We will show that beginning with its semi-Cliffite method, the RCIT’s fetishism of bourgeois democracy is a chronic form of centrism, in reality objectively part of the permanent counter-revolution which we as revolutionaries are pledged to expose and defeat.

The RCIT’s main argument against the LCC is that we are ultra-lefts who claim that “nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat”:

“Desperately searching for a theoretical hook on which to base their notions, the LCC looks to Trotsky who wrote the following in his book on the permanent revolution:

With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.

From this fundamental insight of Trotsky the LCC derives … that nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat. Poor pedants! From Trotsky’s statement that “the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation” (our emphasizes) in the “countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries” the LCC distortedly concludes that not even one single aspect of belated capitalist development can change in any country, at anytime, anywhere in the world!” (RCIT ibid)

We agree with Trotsky’s quote. We say nothing about capitalist development being impossible short of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. What we do say is that in the epoch of imperialism capitalist development is based on state monopoly finance capital which develops the forces of production unevenly, accumulating super-profits in the imperialist states, and under-developing the forces of production in the semi-colonies. Even imperialism is capable of making big changes as it ravages what is left of nature, but these are mainly destructive of the forces of production, and do not add up to the qualitative change from semi-colony to imperialism.

This is entirely consistent with Lenin’s theory of imperialism and Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. It is exactly why Trotsky explained that the completion of the bourgeois revolution is impossible except as part of the socialist revolution. Following Lenin, we argue that semi-colonies are not economically independent of imperialism and cannot accumulate sufficient capital to become imperialist themselves. Therefore, only Russia and China could make this transition, having escaped semi-colonial servitude by making socialist revolutions and remaining economically independent after the restoration of capitalism. And that is why we don’t agree that South Korea and Israel are new imperialist powers. We see them as US dependencies, whose economic growth is subsidised in order to maintain them as armed outposts of US imperialism.

We think that the RCIT has a fetish of ‘bourgeois democracy’ that is inseparable from its view that imperialist super-exploitation and oppression of semi-colonies can under “exceptional circumstances” allow them to become imperialist. By ‘fetish’ we mean Marx’s view that capitalist production relations are inverted as exchange relations misrepresenting value as inherent in commodities rather than as socially necessary labour time. This fetishism is reproduced in the capitalist state creating the illusion that it is separate from society and hence is not determined by society.

If you believe that semi-colonies can become imperialist then you must subscribe to the illusion that bourgeois democracy can be used by the proletariat in the imperialist countries to moderate the drive for super-profits enabling the semi-colonial masses to can carry through a national revolution that wins economic independence from imperialism short of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Hence capitalist state-centred fetishism underlies the illusion that bourgeois democracy today is still capable in ‘exceptional’ circumstances of being ‘progressive’, that is, social imperialism. Finding such ‘exceptional circumstances’ is no more than selecting isolated ‘facts’ that confirm the RCITs pre-existing bourgeois democratic fetish.

We can see this empiricist method in operation when the RCIT promotes the illusion that bourgeois democracy, even when expressed in popular fronts, or popular front parties, are a ‘lesser evil’ to Stalinism in Russia and Yugoslavia, military dictatorships in Thailand and Egypt, and fascism in Brazil. We will prove below, that Marx, Lenin and Trotsky never confused ‘bourgeois democracy’ with ‘workers democracy, and so never saw one form of class rule, the bourgeois democratic dictatorship, as capable of smashing another form, bourgeois reactionary dictatorship, whether it be the Prussian Army in 1871 or German and Spanish fascism in 1933. The RCIT is in danger of becoming a Menshevik apologist for the bourgeois popular front as a part of the ‘democratic revolution’ and a necessary stage in capitalist development preparing the conditions for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In this article we argue that the key to understanding the counterrevolutionary role of Menshevism is the concept, program and strategy of Permanent Revolution. Conceived by Marx in 1850, continued in the transitional program of Lenin and Trotsky, it is the strategy of the historic struggle of the proletariat to break through the ideology of bourgeois democracy by means of workers democracy and to complete the permanent revolution with the abolition of classes and the birth of communism.

From bourgeois to proletarian ‘permanent revolution’

According to Trotsky the Permanent Revolution has three aspects: the proletarian revolution would complete the bourgeois revolution; the permanent revolution would continue through the development of socialism to communism; third, the permanent revolution is an international revolution. These aspects are united in Marx’s conception of Permanent Revolution:

“The permanent revolution in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without; that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in the complete liquidation of class society”. (L. Trotsky The Permanent Revolution, Pathfinder edition, p. 130. Introduction)

Trotsky acknowledges that Marx applied the concept to the bourgeois revolution in France to signify the struggle of the French bourgeoisie to prevail against Napoleon. To counter Napoleon Bonaparte’s illusion that his state stood “above” bourgeois society and was free to draw on the national treasury, the bourgeoisie conspired to create a grain shortage, delaying Napoleon’s Russia campaign by two months and causing its defeat. This was a victory in the ‘permanent revolution’ of the bourgeoisie over Napoleon’s ‘permanent war’ as an intolerable expense to the economy. However, the bourgeoisie soon had to resort to the ‘Bonapartist’ state standing “above” society in order to suppress the unruly national proletariat. This marked a decline of the progressive bourgeoisie into its opposite, a reactionary bourgeoisie.

The failure of the bourgeois revolutions of 1848 was proof of the beginning of the end of the progressive bourgeoisie in Europe. The Prussian bourgeoisie feared the proletariat more than the feudal Junkers, signalling to Marx that the time for the proletarian revolution had begun. While the feudal regime remained in place and Prussian capitalism remained backward, only the proletarian revolution could develop the forces of production. As Trotsky puts it:

In 1848 a class was needed that would be able to take charge of events without and in spite of the bourgeoisie, a class which would not only be prepared to push the bourgeois forward by its pressure but also at the decisive moment to throw its political corpse out of the way…The proletariat was too weak, lacked organization, experience and knowledge. Capitalism had developed sufficiently to render necessary the abolition of the old feudal relations, but not sufficiently to bring forward the working class, the product of the new industrial relations, as a decisive political force.” (‘Results and Prospects’, in The Permanent Revolution, p. 56-57, ibid)

The failed bourgeois revolutions of 1848

The RCIT quotes the example of the revolutions of 1848 against us, claiming it proves we don’t understand Permanent Revolution:

“Let us give yet another example which unmasks the LCC’s wooden, mechanistic way of thinking. In his book, Trotsky illustrated his concept of permanent revolution with the case of Germany. There he explained that the failed bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1848 resulted in the absence of democracy:

The concept of the permanent revolution was advanced by the great Communists of the middle of the nineteenth century, Marx and his co-thinkers, in opposition to the democratic ideology which, as we know, claims that with the establishment of a ‘rational’ or democratic state all questions can be solved peacefully by reformist or evolutionary measures. Marx regarded the bourgeois revolution of 1848 as the direct prelude to the proletarian revolution. Marx ‘erred’. Yet his error has a factual and not a methodological character. The Revolution of 1848 did not turn into the socialist revolution. But that is just why it also did not achieve democracy. As to the German Revolution of 1918, it was no democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution, it was a proletarian revolution decapitated by the Social Democrats; more correctly, it was a bourgeois counter-revolution, which was compelled to preserve pseudo-democratic forms after its victory over the proletariat.”” (RCIT ibid)

Marx recognised that the failure of the bourgeois revolution in Prussia in 1848 to bring about bourgeois democracy did not lead directly to the proletarian revolution. That is a fact. But Marx also said that while the failure of the bourgeois revolution did not immediately turn into a successful proletarian revolution, it was the prelude to the ‘permanent revolution’:

“Although the German workers cannot come to power and achieve the realization of their class interests without passing through a protracted revolutionary development, this time they can at least be certain that the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated. But they themselves must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat. Their battle cry must be: The Permanent Revolution.” (‘Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,’ March 1850. The Revolutions of 1848, p. 330, Pelican edition)

In the same address to the Communist League in 1850, Marx writes the ‘petty bourgeois democrats’ try to limit the proletarian revolution to the reforms conceded by the bourgeoisie rather than “make the revolution permanent.” Bourgeois ‘democracy’ then is already counter-revolutionary, holding back rather than advancing the permanent revolution:

“While the democratic petty bourgeois want to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible, achieving at most the aims already mentioned, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. Our concern cannot simply be to modify private property, but to abolish it, not to hush up class antagonisms but to abolish classes, not to improve the existing society but to found a new one.” (Marx, ibid, p. 323) [Our emphasis]

Here Marx is stating clearly that to “make the revolution permanent” it is necessary to “abolish private [capitalist] property”. Implicit in his statement is his view that this requires the end of bourgeois democracy which is premised on the reproduction of private property. During the 1840s, Marx in his ‘Early Writings’[i] formulated his concept of the capitalist state as derived from the fetishised reality of exchange relations, where the private interests of individuals as buyers and sellers of commodities becomes represented as the ‘general interest’ in a state form standing above society. Bourgeois democracy then functions to reproduce capitalist property and the class contradiction between labour and capital, by masking that contradiction in the ideology of national unity. Social Democracy is merely the incorporation of that ideology into the program of Social Democratic parties.

The RCIT does not realise that Trotsky is making the same point when he refers to the German counter-revolution of 1918. The ‘democratic petty bourgeoisie’ (the Social Democrats) used the “pseudo-democratic forms conceded” by the bourgeoisie to mask the counter-revolution as the ‘victory of the permanent revolution’. The failure of the revolution was due to the failure of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) to win the masses from reactionary ‘bourgeois democracy’ to the revolutionary ‘proletarian democracy’ of the armed insurrection and dictatorship of the proletariat. Following Marx, Trotsky is pointing out that it is the petty bourgeois democrats who paint the “pseudo-democratic forms” as the victory of the permanent revolution to mask the bourgeois counter-revolution. To prove that Marx and Trotsky are one on this question we need to go back to the Paris Commune and the first major test of permanent revolution.

Lessons of the Paris Commune

If the failed revolutions taught Marx and the First International that it was time for the proletarian revolution, the Paris Commune drowned ‘bourgeois democracy’ in the blood of the Communards. The Paris Commune proved that the revolution that failed in ‘backward’ Prussia had also been accompanied by a retreat in the great French Revolution. Such was the fear of the rising proletariat on the part of the French ruling class that it found its expression in the Second Empire of Louis Bonaparte who came to power in a coup d’état in December, 1851, and installed himself emperor. In July, 1870, Bonaparte declared war on Prussia against much popular opposition in France. He was defeated soon after at Sedan, when his army surrendered, and two days later a Republic was declared in Paris with massive support across France. However the National Assembly of the Republic was dominated by bourgeois and petty bourgeois, who rushed to make an armistice and negotiate peace with Prussia, so as to conspire to defeat the workers Commune of Paris.

“Armed Paris was the only serious obstacle in the way of the counter-revolutionary conspiracy. Paris was, therefore, to be disarmed…The seizure of her artillery was evidently but to serve as a preliminary to the general disarmament of Paris, and, therefore, the revolution of 4 September. But that revolution had become the legal status of France. The Republic, its work, was recognized by the conqueror in the terms of the capitulation. After the capitulation it was acknowledged by all the foreign powers, and in its name the National Assembly had been summoned. The Paris Workingmen’s revolution of 4 September was the only legal title of the National Assembly seated at Bordeaux, and of its executive.” (Marx, The Civil War in France, pp.198-9, Part 2)

Marx and the 1st International declared support for the Republic and its defence against the Prussian army. The thrust of its position was to defend the Republic against both Prussian and the reactionary National Assembly:

“Let the sections of the International Working Men’s Association in every country stir the working classes to action. If they forsake their duty, if they remain passive, the present tremendous war will be but the harbinger of still deadlier international feuds, and lead in every nation to a renewed triumph over the workman by the lords of the sword, of the soil, and of capital. Vive la republique”. (‘Second address of the General Council’, p.186)

Thiers[ii] could not overthrow the legitimate Republic that replaced the Second Empire of Louis Bonaparte without making a reactionary military alliance with Bismarck. The armed workers of Paris, supported by the 1st International, had to defend a bourgeois republic against a French royalist reaction backed by the Prussian state. But they could only defend the republic as a Workers Republic. As a result of the experience of the Commune, Marx and Engels drew the conclusion that the Workers Republic had to smash the bourgeois state and create the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, or suffer defeat.

Thus the bourgeois ‘permanent revolution’ had turned into its opposite, the ‘permanent counter-revolution’, conceding French national sovereignty to the Prussians to impose the bourgeois dictatorship in its most naked form with the slaughter of the Communards. Better a national defeat for France than the defeat for private property! Yet from the ashes of the heroic Commune the proletariat emerged for the first time on the world stage of ‘permanent revolution’:

“If the Commune was thus the true representative of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the truly national government, it was at the same time, as a working men’s government, as the bold champion of the emancipation of labour, emphatically international. Within sight of the Prussian army, that had annexed to Germany two French provinces, the Commune annexed to France the working people all over the world.” (Class Struggles in France, p. 216 Part 3) [Our emphasis]

Marx’s conclusion, and subsequently that of Lenin and Trotsky, was that after 1871 the epoch of the proletarian ‘permanent revolution’ had opened. The material forms of revolutionary ‘workers democracy’ that arose in the Commune to defeat the reactionary ‘bourgeois democracy’ of the National Assembly, that is, direct representation, right of recall, workers councils, workers militias, etc., were now an example to be held up internationally. Henceforth, the ‘permanent revolution’ was the strategy that transformed the unfinished bourgeois tasks of the national revolution, agrarian reform, the bourgeois republic, and so on, into socialist tasks, where nations became the workers socialist republics, agrarian reform became peasant communes on nationalised land, and bourgeois democracy became the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Moreover, it becomes clear that the concept of the strategy of permanent revolution reflects Marx’s transitional method that the minimum program for the bourgeois republic must be combined with the maximum socialist demands for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in a transitional program.

Marx Critiques the Gotha Program

The defeat of the Paris Commune coincided with the beginning of the transition of world capitalism from its competitive stage to the monopoly capitalism of the imperialist epoch. This led to a period of several decades of economic growth in Europe where the export of capital began to produce super-profits in the colonies giving rise to high living standards in the top layers of the proletariat in the imperialist countries. As a result, these layers called by Engels ‘bourgeois workers’, and Lenin, the ‘labour aristocracy,’ began to identify their economic interests with imperialism. This was reflected in the divisions in the International, and the emergence of a majority backing Lassalle at Gotha in 1875.

The Gotha Program was a retreat from the Marxist program to the petty bourgeois national socialism of Lassalle. It was a retreat from the permanent revolution of the Commune on the question of socialism, internationalism and communism. First, Marx critiqued its adaptation to the Prussian state, putting bourgeois democratic demands on the police state of Bismarck for graduated taxes, free education, and state aid for workers cooperatives. The overthrow of labour exploitation was replaced by the utopia of a “free state” regulating wages, taxes and funding education, welfare and employment. This ‘free state’ was the same state that had recently helped put down the Commune.

Second, Marx asks:

“And to what is the internationalism of the German workers’ party reduced? To the consciousness that the result of their efforts ‘will be the international brotherhood of peoplesa phrase borrowed from the bourgeois League of Peace and Freedom and which is intended to pass as an equivalent for the international brotherhood of the working classes in the joint struggle against the ruling classes and their governments. Not a word, therefore, of the international role of the German working class! And this is how it is meant to challenge its own bourgeoisie, which is already fraternally linked with the bourgeoisies in all other countries, and Herr Bismarck’s international policy of conspiracy!” (‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, The First International after Marx, p.350. Part 1) [Our emphasis]

Third, its program is confined to the ‘present national state’ which means ‘their own state, the Prusso-German Empire’, and doesn’t speak of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat or the transition from socialism to Communism. Marx states:

“…Between capitalist and communist society lies a period of revolutionary transformation from one to the other. There is a corresponding period of transition in the political sphere and in this period the state can only take the form of a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” (ibid, p. 355) [Our emphasis]

It is clear by 1875, that in Marx’s conception, permanent revolution is a process, not a sudden leap over the bourgeois revolution, and completed only when the proletarian revolution is complete. That is, it is a strategy, which is more or less continuous and uninterrupted, except by advances and retreats, and complete only when socialist society culminates in communist society. Lenin and Trotsky would speak of an ‘epoch’ of the permanent revolution in 1905. The permanent revolution would extend for an indeterminate ‘epoch’ and would be completed only when the revolution in Russia had unified its three aspects, finishing the bourgeois revolution as socialist revolution, incorporating that into the international socialist revolution, and making the transition to communism.

1905 and “The Permanent Revolution”

The RCIT claims that we do not understand Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, and quote from The Permanent Revolution.

Desperately searching for a theoretical hook on which to base their notions, the LCC looks to Trotsky who wrote the following in his book on the permanent revolution:

With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.

From this fundamental insight of Trotsky the LCC derives … that nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat. Poor pedants! From Trotsky’s statement that “the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation” (our emphases) in the “countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries” the LCC distortedly concludes that not even one single aspect of belated capitalist development can change in any country, at anytime, anywhere in the world!” (RCIT, ibid)

Do we say: “That nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time, without the dictatorship of the proletariat”? We have already rejected this as untrue. We agree with Trotsky and consistently argue for his conception of the Permanent Revolution. The RCIT seems to think however, that up to the present day capitalism under “exceptional circumstances” can develop the forces of production in semi-colonies even if this leads to “incomplete” and “pseudo” solutions to its historic tasks. Well, we have pointed out that the bourgeoisie has had more than a century in which to continue with its historic mission in opposition to the already existing proletarian permanent revolution. Since 1850 its “mission” is clearly a permanent counter-revolution to suppress the permanent revolution!

More critical at this point in our argument is that the RCIT seems to think that because capitalism developed the forces of production in imperialist Russia in 1905 that this refutes our argument that semi-colonies cannot become imperialist after the First Imperialist War. They imply that if it could happen in Russia in 1905, why not in this same imperialist epoch could we not expect new imperialisms to arise “in exceptional circumstances” in the former workers states of Russia and China and the capitalist semi-colonies such as South Korea and Israel right up to the present?

Why not? For the very reason that Trotsky and Lenin knew that in 1905 imperialist Russia was a hybrid, a combination of modes of production, in which to develop the forces of production further the bourgeoisie had to be overthrown. Not because it was an “exception” from other imperialisms, but because it represented the extreme contradiction between advanced finance capital and backward Russia that was determined by the laws of state monopoly capital. Russia was a hybrid conjunction of the Tsarist feudal state and parasitic finance capital to create the conditions for maximum super-exploitation and hence maximum state oppression. Far from an ‘exceptional’ case opening the way for future ‘exceptional’ cases, Russia for Lenin and Trotsky expressed the extreme contradictions of imperialism and its decay as a system. The contradiction between its feudal backwardness and modern capitalist industry meant it was the ‘weak link’ in the imperialist chain that would be the first to fall to permanent revolution and start a chain reaction to bring an end to capitalism as a mode of production.

All three aspects of the ‘permanent revolution’ were put to the test in Russia in 1905 when Trotsky published his theory of The Permanent Revolution. Trotsky took Marx’s concept and applied it to Tsarist Russia. He argued that Russia had developed in a belated and uneven way so that the bourgeoisie was even weaker than those of France and Germany in 1848. The working class was concentrated in the cities in modern industry recently developed by French and British finance capital and more politically advanced than French and British workers! The urban proletariat was prepared by Tsarist reaction and modern industry sufficiently to lead the poor peasant masses in a Permanent Revolution to complete the bourgeois tasks in a proletarian revolution.

The reception was mixed. The Mensheviks took their centrist position for a bourgeois revolution led by the bourgeoisie. Lenin agreed with Trotsky that, despite important differences over whether it would be necessary to share power with the peasants in the early stages of the revolution, the revolution would be led by the proletariat to overthrow the Tsar and would have to proceed ‘uninterrupted’ to the socialist revolution. Lenin took Trotsky’s side stating that the permanent revolution was not ‘a single blow’ or ‘leap’, and while uninterrupted, would take a “whole historical epoch” which could not be predicted in advance. Despite attempts by the reformists to exaggerate the split between Lenin and Trotsky on the question of Permanent Revolution, Lenin quotes Trotsky in November, 1905, to express his agreement with him. Trotsky recounts this episode in The Permanent Revolution quoting Lenin:

““Comrade Trotsky said that the proletarian revolution can, without halting at the first stage, continue on its road, elbowing the exploiters aside; Lenin on the other hand, pointed out that the political revolution is only the first step. The publicist of Nasha Zhizn would like to see a contradiction here…The whole misunderstanding comes, first, from the fear with which the name alone of the social revolution fills Nasha Zhizn; secondly, out of the desire of this paper to discover some sort of sharp and piquant difference of opinion among the Social Democrats; and thirdly, in the figure of speech used by Comrade Trotsky; “at a single blow”.

In No 10 of Nachalo, Comrade Trotsky explains his idea quite unambiguously:

“The complete victory of the revolution signifies the victory of the proletariat”, writes Comrade Trotsky. “But this victory in turn implies the uninterruptedness of the revolution in the future. The proletariat realises in life the fundamental democratic tasks, and the very logic of its immediate struggle to consolidate its political rule poses before the proletariat, at a certain moment, purely socialist problems. Between the minimum and the maximum programme (of the Social Democrats) a revolutionary continuity is established. It is not a question of a single “blow”, or of a single day or month, but of a whole historical epoch. It would be absurd to try to fix its duration in advance.””” [Our emphasis] ibid p. 210)

In his speech to the Fifth Party Congress in 1907 Trotsky explains why the proletariat is ready to play the role in the Russia of 1905 of the sansculottes in the French revolution. Capitalism has not grown as in Europe but been introduced from above by imported British and French finance capital funding state loans to set up modern industry.

“As a result of this process there appeared among us as the main force in the towns, at the moment of the bourgeois revolution, an industrial proletariat of an extremely highly developed social type. This is a fact. It cannot be disputed, and must be taken as the basis of our revolutionary tactical conclusions…As the petty bourgeoisie urban democracy in the Great French Revolution placed itself at the head of the revolutionary nation, in just the same way the proletariat, which is the one and only revolutionary democracy in our cities, must find a support in the peasant masses and place itself in power – if the revolution has any prospect of victory at all.”  (‘Speech at the Fifth Party Congress’, London, 1907, ibid p. 217)

For Trotsky, the epoch of Permanent Revolution now included Russia in 1905 with the first of three revolutions, when already the Petersburg Soviet characterised itself as proletarian! He and Lenin had no truck with the Mensheviks who thought that Russia’s backwardness meant that the proletariat had to play the historical role of ‘assisting’ the bourgeoisie to take power and complete its bourgeois revolution to prepare the conditions for the socialist revolution.

If we understand Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution correctly as an application in a particular capitalist country of Marx’s more general formulation, we can see that it is true to Marx. Trotsky is at one with Marx:

“The permanent revolution in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without; that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in the complete liquidation of class society”. (ibid p. 130)

To repeat: the Permanent Revolution finishes the bourgeois revolution. It does not stop at the “democratic stage” because bourgeois democracy is counter-revolutionary. It has to be smashed by proletarian “revolutionary democracy” which continues the transition from socialism to communism and finally succeeds as world communism. For Lenin and Trotsky Permanent Revolution was a class strategy as understood by Marx. It had begun in the mid-19th century when the bourgeois revolution was already in decline. By 1905 in Russia the Permanent Revolution was part of the program of the revolutionary Marxists against the ‘evolutionary’ Marxists. It was now a part of the subjective reality in the program of the revolutionary party developing the theory and practice of Marxism in the epoch of decaying imperialism, facing war, revolution and counter-revolution. Included in the concept of permanent revolution is the end of “democracy,” no longer bourgeois democracy, but “revolutionary proletarian democracy,” which is abolished along with the “liquidation of class society” in communist society.

War, Revolution and Counter-revolution

The onset of the imperialist epoch in the late 19th century marked the qualitative change from the progressive bourgeoisie developing the forces of production in the epoch of competitive capitalism to a reactionary bourgeoisie now parasitical on the forces of production, monopolising and destroying those forces. The majority of the 2nd International represented the rise of the labor aristocracy adapting to social imperialism. This was the current of ‘evolutionary’ socialism critiqued by Marx and Engels in the Commune and the Gotha Program. This was the program of the democratic petty bourgeois who believed that the workers could transform the capitalist nation state by relatively peaceful, parliamentary means. Against the ‘evolutionary’ socialists were the minority ‘revolutionary’ socialists, who since 1871 had rejected the program of bourgeois democracy as reactionary, and stood on the transitional program of permanent revolution. The workers’ struggle for ‘democracy’ necessitated the ‘smashing of the bourgeois state’ and the imposition of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

The First Imperialist War was proof of this in the extreme, as the imperialists went to war using their workers as cannon fodder and their parliamentary bourgeois democracies to provide war credits. After the historic 4 August 1914 betrayal of the majority of the 2nd International, the flag of Permanent Revolution was kept aloft by the Bolsheviks of 1905 who formed the core of the tiny Zimmerwald Left against the betrayal of the SPD majority and Kautskyite centre. The imperialist defence of the nation was at the expense of other nations, proving that capitalism had now outstripped the national state as a progressive force in developing the forces of production. Now the bourgeois nation states and nationalist ideology were in a reactionary retreat from the bourgeois revolution and transmitting its imperialist ideology into the ranks of the workers via the petty bourgeois democrats and the betrayals of Social Democracy.

The Zimmerwald Left position was to keep alive the program of permanent revolution. It called on workers to turn the imperialist war into a civil war, uniting the proletariat across national borders to overthrow the imperialist nations ruled by feudal remnants in league with the imperialist bourgeoisie and their reformist agents in the working class. Utopian? No! The Bolsheviks knew that imperialist war had both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary aspects. The experience of war by the working classes proved to them that bourgeois democracy was a fraud and their instinct even without a revolutionary party and program was to refuse to fight imperialist wars. After 3 years of mutual destruction, the Russian workers in uniform rejected imperialist war for civil war, as did the German workers in uniform who mutinied after 4 years of slaughter.

Bolshevism wins in Russia but loses in Germany

Put to the test in 1917 the February Revolution proved that the proletariat was advanced and that the bourgeoisie was weak, frightened of the proletariat, and conspiring with the remnants of Tsarist reaction to smash the revolution. The Mensheviks continued to support the bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class. The Old Bolsheviks around Stalin, Kamenev, etc., were ready to support the popular front government as the lesser evil to the Tsarists and imperialists. Only Lenin and Trotsky were in agreement on the Permanent Revolution. They shared the same dialectical or transitional method. Both saw that the Permanent Revolution combined the minimal and maximum program in what would later become for Trotsky the Transitional Program. The workers would take power on the basis of soviet majorities, rapidly complete the bourgeois tasks by forming a socialist republic with a national army that would complete the civil war; fight imperialism with weapons and with diplomacy to advance the revolutions everywhere, especially in Europe; adopt land reform to win over the poor peasants, and when convinced that they had won over the Kulaks (middle peasants), abolish the Constituent Assembly.

But the Permanent Revolution in Russia was not finished. It had to spread to Europe, in particular Germany; otherwise it would succumb to counter-revolution. It had to advance its international aspect in order to advance its socialist aspect. As we know the imperialists called off their war and ganged up on the Soviet Union so there were more retreats than advances. The isolation of the Permanent Revolution in the Soviet Union with the defeat of the German revolution set back the international revolution. The lesson of the Permanent Revolution in Russia had been that either workers took power, or the bourgeois popular front would usher in the fascist counter-revolution. In Germany, the rotten role of Social Democracy and the Kautsky centrists combined with a weak Communist Party led to the isolation and defeat of the armed workers uprisings.

We come back to the RCIT on its view (above) that even after the counter-revolution in Germany in 1918 the defence of the “incomplete and pseudo” forms of bourgeois democracy is part of the permanent revolution. We have already shown that we agree with Marx that 1848 marked the failure of a bourgeois revolution and the opening of the permanent revolution. And this was confirmed by a growing Bonapartist reaction and the Prussian army’s bloody repression of the Paris Commune in 1871. Now we are asked by the RCIT to swallow that, after the First Imperialist War for super-profits and the defeat of the German revolution, the proletariat should defend bourgeois democracy in its “pseudo-democratic forms” in the Weimar Republic. Perhaps the RCIT mean the right to vote for the same ‘disguised popular front’ that put the noose around the workers necks. Perhaps the RCIT is referring to a posthumous right to vote for the proletarians slaughtered at the hands of the Freikorps and the fascists. Is the RCIT saying that such ‘pseudo-democratic’ concessions would obligate revolutionaries to “defend bourgeois democracy” in the Weimar Republic against the fascists?

Broué quotes from the resolution on the united front tactic at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, specifically about the “Workers Government” in Germany in 1918-19:

“In 1918-1919, Germany had experienced a ‘Social-Democratic workers’ government’. These were not revolutionary workers’ governments, but ‘disguised coalitions between the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolutionary workers’ leaders’: “These ‘workers’ governments’ are tolerated in critical periods by the enfeebled bourgeoisie, in order to deceive the proletariat about the true class character of the state, or even to divert the revolutionary offensive of the proletariat and gain time with the help of corrupted workers’ leaders. Communists must not take part in such governments. On the contrary they must pitilessly        demonstrate to the masses the real character of these false ‘workers’ governments’. In the period of capitalist decline, in which our main task is to win the majority of the proletariat for the revolution, these governments can objectively contribute to the process of decomposition of the bourgeois regime.””   (Quoted in P. Broué, The German Revolution, p. 672 Chapter 34 ‘The Development of the Tactic’)

Such a ‘disguised coalition’ we would call a ‘popular front’ today. We would not have supported such a ‘workers’ government’ against fascism in Germany. The SPD was in a coalition with the army to put down workers risings, and the army was constitutionally independent of the Government. Nor in 1923 when the KPD wasted time debating joining a ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD and the bourgeoisie (to expose the ‘popular front’ to the SPD workers!) while a showdown on the streets was rapidly building between revolutionary workers and the fascist shock troops. The defeat of the revolution in Germany in 1923 can be attributed in the last analysis to the ‘subjective’ weakness of the KPD, but was mainly due to the ‘objective’ role of the SPD in popular front regimes with the reactionary bourgeoisie, to ‘deceive’ and ‘divert’ the workers, and ultimately tie their hands before the rise of fascism that would end in the historic defeat of the international proletariat with Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933.

Since 1850 the Marxist strategy of ‘making the revolution permanent’ was marked by both revolutionary advances and counter-revolutionary retreats. The historic victory of the Three Russian Revolutions culminating in the October Revolution now met with a historic defeat in the German October. As a consequence of the isolation of the Soviet Union, the Stalinists deepened the counter-revolution in Russia, as well as in China, Germany and Spain. Nonetheless, despite the Stalinists counter-revolutionary role in alliance with imperialism, the existence of workers property in the Soviet Union as the most advanced victory of the Permanent Revolution dictated that the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union was to become the central platform of the Left Opposition and the Transitional Program.

Permanent Revolution vs Counter-revolution in China, Germany and Spain

The next major development in the Permanent Revolution was the widening international confrontation between it and the counter-revolution. It was first put to the test in China 1925-27. Here the Stalinists recast the line of the Mensheviks in 1917 as the bloc of four classes; workers, peasants, intellectuals, and the ‘democratic’ national bourgeoisie against the landlords and imperialists. This time the Communists were trapped in the popular front and wiped out by the ‘democratic’ bourgeois General Chiang Kai Shek who was also made an honorary member of the Comintern by Stalin –another instance of the popular front acting as jailer of workers awaiting the executioner.

Germany: From disguised to open popular front

Germany was another defeat for the international working class. As we saw, the failure of revolution in Germany in 1923 did not resolve the crisis for the ruling class. The Weimar Republic went from the ‘disguised popular front’ of the SPD and the army in 1919 to an open popular front in 1923 and then a succession of Bonapartist presidents with the power to directly suppress the workers until its final fall to Hitler in 1933. The SPD could no longer string out its popular front with Bonapartism to pacify the working class and prevent the rise of fascism. The depression that began in 1929 proved it could not fulfil this task, but it still continued to suck up to the Bonapartist regime. The Stalinized KPD took an ultra left line and sabotaged a united front between the KPD and SPD against fascism. Even worse, it backed the fascists in the “red referendum”. In August, 1931, Trotsky sounded the alarm:

“Were this theory to entrench itself in the German Communist Party, determining its course for the next few months, it would signify a betrayal on the part of the Comintern of no lesser historical proportions than the betrayal of the Social Democracy on August 4, 1914, and at that, with much more frightful consequences. It is the duty of the Left Opposition to give the alarm: the leadership of the Comintern is driving the German proletariat toward an enormous catastrophe, the essence of which is panicky capitulation before fascism!”(Germany, Key to the International Situation, Section 31)

Trotsky sees that the victory of fascism in Germany will be a defeat for many of the accumulated historic victories of Permanent Revolution. It will lead to war with the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany representing the imperialist world. “The crushing of the German proletariat by the fascists would already comprise at least half of the collapse of the Soviet republic.” The Left Opposition (Bolshevik Leninists) held up the banner of Permanent Revolution and campaigned to save the world revolution in Germany. While the Stalinists said Social Democracy must be defeated before fascism can be defeated, Trotsky points out that this cannot be done in time when the fascists are at the point of taking power. It is necessary to oppose social democracy politically but demand a military united front with them against fascism. For those who think that social democracy is no different from fascism, Trotsky points out that:

“In the course of many decades, the workers have built up within the bourgeois democracy, by utilizing it, by fighting against it, their own strongholds and bases of proletarian democracy: the trade unions, the political parties, the educational and sport clubs, the cooperatives, etc. The proletariat cannot attain power within the formal limits of bourgeois democracy, but can do so only by taking the road of revolution: this has been proved both by theory and experience. And these bulwarks of workers’ democracy within the bourgeois state are absolutely essential for taking the revolutionary road. The work of the Second International consisted in creating just such bulwarks during the epoch when it was still fulfilling its progressive historic labor.” (Trotsky What Next?Democracy and Fascism’, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany’ p. 158-9, Pathfinder edition.)

These historic “bulwarks” of ‘workers democracy’ within capitalism are the victories of the Permanent Revolution and “essential for taking the revolutionary road”. They are “strongholds” and “bases” of the united front.[iii] Trotsky insists that the formation of soviets are on the agenda, “…since the soviets, in themselves, represent the highest form of the united front in the revolutionary epoch, therefore their inception must be preceded by the policy of the united front in the preparatory period.” Trotsky summed up the Bolshevik-Leninist position: “Only on the basis of the united front, only through the mass organizations, can the KPD conquer the leading position within the future soviets and lead the proletariat to the conquest of power.” [iv]

Hitler staged the Reichstag fire in February, 1933, on the pretext of a communist revolution to then make his coup d’état. The SPD cowered before Hitler while the KDP was isolated and impotent. Trotsky called the defeat the worst defeat of the proletariat in history, as the Nazis set about smashing working class “strongholds” and “bases”. By July, 1933, Trotsky was forced to conclude that the Comintern had betrayed the German and world’s workers and that the Left Opposition could no longer reform the Comintern or the Soviet state. A political revolution would be necessary to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and restore workers democracy to power in the Soviet Union. The Left Opposition now had the task of building a new revolutionary international to overcome the historic defeat of the Permanent Revolution, to restore the “bulwarks of workers democracy”, in particular the defence of workers property in the Soviet Union. A fundamental principle of its Transitional Program would be the ‘unconditional defence of the Soviet Union.’

“Only the creation of the Marxist International, completely independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy and counterposed politically to it, can save the USSR from collapse by binding its destiny with the destiny of the world proletarian revolution.” (‘It is Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew.’ The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p. 425, ‘The USSR and the Comintern’)

Spain: Stalinism as the ‘shadow’ of the popular front

Spain was like a laboratory of the Permanent Revolution vs the Permanent Counter-revolution. Stalinism again blocked with the bourgeoisie in the popular front government where it was the ‘shadow’ of the bourgeoisie, since most bourgeois had gone over to the fascists. Stalin took on the role of keeping the popular front respectable to demonstrate to the imperialists they did not need fascism to manage capitalism. To demonstrate the moderation of the Republic, Stalin executed the leaders of the centrist POUM and the anarchists, who, despite being part of the popular front could not guarantee the support of their ranks. Spain was a major defeat for the Permanent Revolution as the weak bourgeoisie collaborated with its ‘shadow’ Stalinism as a ‘left-fascist’ regime inside the republic to smash the revolution in advance of the fascists!

We agree with Trotsky’s application of Permanent Revolution in Spain. Trotsky in Lessons of Spain: Last Warning spells out the program of Permanent Revolution and the failure of the POUM and the anarchists to implement it. It meant fighting fascism independently of the Republican army, at the same time calling for the ranks in the Republican, Stalinist and anarchist unions and militias to break from the popular front. That is our position, whereas the RCIT in numerous examples (Yeltsin, Kosovo, Thailand, Egypt) calls for armed independence of workers, but does not call for the break from the bourgeois popular fronts, or popular front parties, to establish that independence, as a pre-condition of the defeat of fascism.

Trotsky on the other hand states clearly that only the proletarian revolution can defeat fascism:

 “The Spanish revolution once again demonstrates that it is impossible to defend democracy against the methods of fascist reaction. And conversely, it is impossible to conduct a genuine struggle against fascism otherwise than through the methods of the proletarian   revolution. Stalin waged war against “Trotskyism” (proletarian revolution) destroying democracy by the Bonapartist measures of the GPU. This refutes once again and once and for all the old Menshevik theory, adopted by the Comintern, in accordance with which the democratic and socialist revolutions are transformed into two independent historic chapters, separated from each other in point of time. The work of the Moscow executioners confirms in its own way the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution.” (Lessons of Spain: Last Warning ‘Stalin confirms in his own way the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution’) [Our emphasis]

This is the basis of our criticisms of the RCIT, which defends bourgeois popular front regimes or parties on the basis that they are a ‘lesser evil’ to fascism (or military Juntas or dictatorships). In fact, Trotsky says, no doubt drawing on the lessons of ‘October’ in both Russia 1917 and Germany 1923, that the Popular Front coming to victory in Spain would be “nothing but a different form of military dictatorship on the backs of the workers and peasants.

Even a complete military victory of the so-called republican army over General Franco, however, would not signify the triumph of “democracy.” The workers and peasants have twice placed bourgeois republicans and their left agents in power: in April 1931 and in February 1936. Both times the heroes of the Popular Front surrendered the victory of the people to the most reactionary and the most serious representatives of the bourgeoisie. A third victory, gained by the generals of the Popular Front, would signify their inevitable agreement with the fascist bourgeoisie on the backs of the workers and peasants. Such a regime will be nothing but a different form of military dictatorship, perhaps without a monarchy and without the open domination of the Catholic Church.”  (ibid The Denouement’) [Our emphasis]

In the epoch of imperialism, the popular front is the jailer for the fascist executioner. The proletariat has to break out of jail to stop the execution!

The Second Imperialist War: revolution and counter-revolution.

The Second Imperialist War was a continuation of the First. Like the First, it had revolutionary and counter-revolutionary aspects. The defeats of the workers in Germany before the Stalinist bloc with Hitler, and the Stalinist popular fronts in France and Spain, proved that Stalinism, in the absence of workers property, was the ‘fascism’ of the left. The flag of Permanent Revolution was held high by the 4th International founded in 1938, just months before the final defeat of the Spanish Revolution. The imperialists, who failed to stop Permanent Revolution advancing in Russia at the end of the First Imperialist War, embarked on the Second, with the immediate aim of destroying Germany and its allies and preventing it from expanding its sphere of influence.

But the real enemy remained the Soviet Union and the threat of ‘communism’ in the West. This was an acknowledgement by all the imperialist bourgeoisies, that their mortal enemy was the survival of workers property. Despite the existence of Stalinism as the ‘fascism’ on the left, the unconditional defence of workers property was the main principle of the Permanent Revolution and of the Transitional Program of the 4th International. The Bolshevik stand against imperialist war was an integral part of the strategy of Permanent Revolution, which meant that where an imperialist power was supplying the Soviet Union in the fight against fascism workers did not campaign to blockade or sabotage the aid to the Soviet Union, while refusing to renounce the necessity to turn imperialist war into civil war at home.

The Trotskyists split between those for whom the Stalinists’ political character as ‘fascists’ made them no different to the Nazis, and those who defended workers property in the Soviet Union unconditionally despite the Stalinists. Among the latter there were those who wavered towards the Stalinist/imperialist line that the Nazis were the main enemy. So there emerged pro-Stalinist and anti-Stalinist currents within Trotskyism. This left Trotsky almost alone in adhering to the Bolshevik Leninist program that had been forged out of Marx’s strategy into the weapon of the Permanent Revolution in Russia. With Trotsky’s assassination the 4th International suffered a decline and fall within the space of ten years that left the world’s workers without a revolutionary communist international.

The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the war in Europe with 20 million dead. It was workers’ property that forged the Red Army and the resistance, not the Stalinist caste, which had purged the best generals before the war. Fascism rose up to suppress the revolutionary potential of the Permanent Revolution in the First Imperialist War because the popular front and Bonapartist regimes proved insufficient. Yet it was the Permanent Revolution in its degenerated Stalinist form that defeated fascism. In the process of defeating the German army, the Soviet Union created the satellite states in Eastern Europe, which prompted the US to form NATO and embark on the Cold War to isolate the Soviet sphere and force it into submission. As part of this global struggle, China and then Indo-China fought national revolutions that became Permanent Revolutions with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the creation of Degenerate Workers States. We will deal with the counter-revolutionary aspect of the post-war settlement before discussing the revolutionary extension of Permanent Revolution in China and Indochina.

German “bourgeois democracy” in 1945

The RCIT claims that bourgeois democracy existed, however imperfect, in post-1945 [West] Germany:

“However, it would be pure nonsense to claim that after World War II Germany was still without a bourgeois democracy (irrespective of all the democratic deficiencies which, in general, are characteristic of bourgeois democracy as a form of capitalist dictatorship). Again, in the LCC’s mindset, this post-1945 bourgeois democracy in Germany is an irresolvable mystery. Based on their misunderstanding of Trotsky, they would have to deny that bourgeois democracy exists in imperialist Germany, since otherwise Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is false!” (RCIT, ibid)

The RCIT knows that bourgeois democracy is a form of capitalist dictatorship. And there is no doubt that bourgeois democracy was restored in the 1945 post-war settlement. The point however, is that it could only be restored on the basis of an historic defeat of the German working class as a result of two imperialist wars, the Great Depression and finally the partition of Germany. Such bourgeois democracy is a bulwark of the counter-revolution. The defence of such bourgeois democratic forms is out of the question. Communists do not participate in elections (post 1989) on the basis of the post-war German Democratic Republic (GDR) constitution, except to use them as a forum for revolutionary propaganda to smash all workers illusions in bourgeois democracy by means of permanent revolution. The same applies to elections in the German Federal Republic (GFR.)

Moreover, there is nothing ‘exceptional’ about the restoration of bourgeois democracy. The RCIT want to explain every instance of the survival of bourgeois democracy as the result of “exceptional circumstances”:

“In reality, of course, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, understood dialectically, is in harmony with the contradictory historical process of class struggle; it is only the LCC’s distorted caricature of this theory which rams its head against the wall. Exceptional historical circumstances – first and foremost the counter-revolutionary defeat of the working class by fascism, the abortion of the revolutionary crisis in Europe and a number of Asian countries by the Stalinist parties, the agreement between imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracy to establish a reactionary new world order, and finally the post-war boom in 1950s and 1960s – facilitated the creation of conditions in which imperialism could solve, in a distorted manner, one or another of the unresolved democratic tasks.” (RCIT, ibid) [Our emphasis]

The RCIT forgets that, as part of the “counter-revolutionary defeat of the working class etc…which facilitated the creation of conditions in which imperialism could solve, in a distorted manner, one or other of the unresolved democratic tasks”, these counter-revolutions were all made possible by bourgeois democracy, in particular by the popular fronts in one or other form, where Social Democracy collaborated with the bourgeois military and/or fascism to effect these counter-revolutions. These are not “exceptional circumstances” but a series of historic defeats that follow from the victories of the permanent counter-revolution over the permanent revolution that necessarily reflect the balance of class forces between the revolutionary proletariat and the reactionary bourgeoisie. If “counter-revolutionary defeats” are exceptional, the RCIT may as well claim that capitalism itself is “exceptional.”

We will now show how the RCIT’s “democracy” in post-war Western Germany was part of the permanent ‘counter-revolution’, and that the ‘new imperialists’ in the post WW2 period were part of that counter-revolutionary settlement. We saw that in 1918 the defeat of the revolution was at the hands of a ‘disguised coalition of Social Democracy and the bourgeoisie.’ The objective content of ‘bourgeois democracy’ was bourgeois reaction. The imperialists’ collaboration with Social Democracy prevented the Permanent Revolution from becoming a European and even global revolution. When the “pseudo-democratic forms” of counter-revolution in the bourgeois republic failed to stem the tide of revolution, this forced the bourgeoisie to appoint the former wartime Army Chief of Staff, Hindenburg, as Bonapartist president in an attempt to ‘balance’ the classes. This failed when Hindenburg finally made Hitler Chancellor, and Hitler then appointed himself dictator.

What was left of bourgeois democracy in Germany after the Second Imperialist War? NATO drew the line between Permanent Revolution and Permanent Counter Revolution. Germany was divided and the West stood for imperialist counter-revolution against the Stalinist ‘degenerated Permanent Revolution’ in the East. Germany was the most important plug in the dyke to sustain, so the Marshall Plan was necessary. West Germany had to be able to absorb the GDR and reunify on a capitalist basis and sustain a front line status. Today the independence of Germany is clearly displayed as it navigates and projects its power and leverage in the EU, NATO and beyond.  Germany of course, never ceased being imperialist. Twice defeated, its bourgeoisie remained in power; its labor aristocracy elevated under conditions of US military occupation.

A fundamental task of the bourgeois revolution is national self-determination. Since 1871 the bourgeoisie have expressed national self-determination as national aggrandisement at the expense of others’ national rights. The partition of Germany in 1945 was a ‘pseudo-democratic’ form of defence of the GDR from “communism.” The task of the international proletariat was to fight for the subjective program of Permanent Revolution, to expose the ‘disguised popular fronts’ of bourgeois governments with Social Democracy, to reunite Germany as a healthy workers’ state, overthrowing the Stalinist regime in the East and the imperialist regime in the West. The “democracy” we stood for in 1945 is straight out of the Transitional Program. For the unconditional defence of East Germany occupied by the Red Army as an extension of the Soviet Union by means of political revolution and world revolution, and the revolutionary unification of Germany as a socialist republic in a socialist united states of Europe.

Subcontracting Imperialism: South Korea and Israel

The RCIT makes a lot of the apparent development of the ‘Asian Tigers’, Taiwan and Republic of Korea (ROK) as capable of emerging as ‘new imperialists’. In fact it cites the ROK as an example of a new imperialist power to disprove our claim that no new imperialist powers could have arisen from semi-colonial status since WW1. We agree that these countries have developed large international corporations that export capital. If that were the only basis on which to determine imperialism, the RCIT might have a case. But other semi-colonies such as Brazil and India also have considerable Outbound Foreign Direct Investment (hereafter OFDI) and yet remain dominated by imperialism. However, in the case of Taiwan and the ROK capitalist development is the direct result of their national oppression as militarily divided and occupied forward bases of US imperialism resulting from its war against China and the DPRK.

Taiwan was formerly Formosa and part of China until Chiang Kai Shek with his Kuomintang entourage defeated by the Revolution of 1949 then retreated to Formosa and founded the bourgeois Republic of China as a puppet of the US. Similarly, the ROK was split off from the North at the 38th parallel by a ceasefire that still remains in existence. South Korea like Taiwan is the result of an imperialist partition of an existing nation in the ‘UN’ sponsored war against the DRPK. These are puppet military outposts of US imperialism. The militarisation of the ROK economy saw the USAID administration overseeing the planning of the economy, in particular the export growth strategy under the Park dictatorship in the 60s and 70s. The US still retains command of both its forces and ROK forces in the event of war arising from its intensifying rivalry with China.

Taiwan and the ROK are therefore not politically, militarily or economically independent bourgeois nations, let alone imperialist nations. Their economies are heavily subsidised by US as virtual security colonies of the US. ROK for example pays the annual equivalent of the cost of one destroyer towards maintaining the 28,500 US occupation forces. Without this special status as US military bases there could be no rapid growth of national capital. While the large Taiwanese and ROK conglomerates are today global multinationals, they could arise only with the aid of massive US economic and military subsidies and control over state planning that made their development possible.

Israel too fits this characterisation of a puppet regime. Israel is not the answer to Jewish national democratic rights since it occupies and oppresses Palestine. It is an armed Zionist state created by Anglo-American imperialism as a gendarme in the Middle East. Since its origins made it dependent on imperialism its finance capital is intertwined with Anglo-American capital and has no separate national existence. Israel’s OFDI as an indicator of imperialism must be offset against decades of heavy military subsidies, military transfers to say nothing of the black box budgets for ‘intelligence’ and military integration with the US military. Israel could not have made a transition from settler-colony to imperialist state for the reason that it cannot escape its subordination to external finance capital. If we subtracted Israel’s dependence on US foreign policy that treats it as a special ‘gendarme’ of US imperialism, then Israel would no longer have the security status that guarantees its high economic performance. In other words we think Israel began as an armed Settler state with Anglo-US finance capital backing, and remains so today.

Israel and the ROK: Comparing FDI and OFDI Stock with Total US Aid

FDI Stock OFDI Stock Total US Aid
Israel 74 74 120*
ROK 156 202 78**

Sources: OECD FDI in figures April 2014 in US$ billions

* Total US foreign aid to Israel 1949-2014 in US$ billions (includes loans)

** Total US Economic and Military Aid, 1948-2012. (Includes US loans but excludes estimates of the economic impact of the US military occupation.)

The national independence of the ROK and Israel (say nothing of the democracy) would be laughable if the truth of the material cost to the masses weren’t so brutal and sustained. Military and economic subservience may have diminished to some extent but even Israel knows which direction its nuclear bombs are obliged to point and under whose watchful eye they are allowed their “independence”. The ROK also knows damn well that without US imperialism in their corner they are just days away from singing praises to the “Great Leader”. As part of the post-war imperialist settlement with the Stalinists, the primary task in West Germany, ROK and Israel was to elevate and sustain a labor aristocracy committed to the anti-communist task. In the ROK and Israel a semi-colonial bourgeoisie with a counter-revolutionary backbone was selected or elevated itself among the candidates. In all three some social gains were needed to advertise the ‘free market’ to those just across the borders in the DWSs and were reeled out (as least to the chosen ones) and held aloft as propagandist’s examples of how democratic imperialism is benevolent with those who owe their very existence to its sustained military prowess. These states are sustained as military bulwarks based on concessions to a client bourgeoisie and a labor aristocracy (a seat at the imperialist table for the 2nd International, i.e. GFR and Israel) as long as they are committed to their counter-revolutionary role.

China and Indo-China

It was the Permanent Revolution surviving in workers property in the Soviet Union that was internationalised in China and Indo-China as revolutions that overthrew the bourgeoisie and completed the bourgeois revolution in the East. However, as largely peasant revolutions led by Stalinist bureaucracies trained under Stalin in Moscow, the proletariat was never in power. There was never a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Like the Eastern European states, although not as direct extensions of the Soviet Union, China and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam were ‘degenerate’ at birth. Nevertheless, these states were post-capitalist and represented an advance in the Permanent Revolution as a distorted form of ‘workers democracy’ in the bureaucratised workers councils and peasant communes.

Conversely, the imperialist determination to surround, divide and isolate these Degenerate Workers States (DWSs) in the name of ‘bourgeois democracy’ could not but be a reactionary attack on ‘workers democracy.’ China and Indo-China expropriated the bourgeoisie but could not deepen their Permanent Revolution to advance workers democracy and build socialism because of their isolation from the international working class. That means, as always, that the limits of the permanent revolution are set by the balance of international class forces between revolution and counter-revolution.

This brings us to the last significant retreat in the Permanent Revolution, the world-historic defeat of workers property in the DWSs from 1989 to 1991. While capitalist property was restored and with it a new bourgeoisie, this counter-revolution was incomplete as it failed to destroy the legacy of the unfinished Permanent Revolution. That legacy was the economic independence of Russia and China in the lifetime of the DWSs that advanced the forces of production beyond that possible in a capitalist semi-colony. That means that the legacy of the workers states was not wiped out by the restoration of capitalism and imperialism was not able therefore to reduce the former workers states to the status of semi-colonies. As a result, the Cold War ended not as an outright victory for US imperialism and its allies because they were not able to break up and plunder the former workers states and destroy their capacity to accumulate capital in their own right. Only then can we properly understand why the rise of Russia and China as imperialist states was possible, and that capitalist semi-colonies cannot complete their bourgeois revolution without the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. As we have seen above, Taiwan, South Korea and Israel are not independent imperialist states, but proxies of Anglo-US imperialism.

1989-91: the ‘democratic counter-revolution’

1917 marked the most historic advance in Permanent Revolution. Despite all setbacks, from Germany 1917-23 and 1933 and the defeats of depression and war, revolution expanded as workers property in the post-war DWSs. So long as workers property remained, the major gain of 1917 was undefeated. Trotsky made unconditional defence of the Soviet Union the fundamental plank of the 1938 program. But the 4th International failed to survive as a healthy international. And the Stalinist bureaucracy could not sustain growth, as the failure of planned production not under the democratic control of the workers inevitably led to economic stagnation. Both Stalinism and pseudo-Trotskyism succumbed to restoration via the democratic road. By the late ‘80s a bourgeois restorationist faction of the bureaucracy was introducing market reforms and bourgeois democratic reforms. Another faction based on the military command recognised the need to restore capitalism but opted for the slow ‘Chinese’ road. Now unconditional defence of the Soviet Union and workers property required the political overthrow of both wings of the bureaucracy.

Trotsky in the ‘30’s had foreseen the possibility of capitalist restoration taking the form of a ‘democratic counter-revolution’; that the main factor in the defeat of workers resistance to capitalist restoration would be their acceptance of the illusions of bourgeois democracy.

“Trotsky did not and could not foresee the actual way in which the bureaucratized workers’ states were destroyed fifty years later. Trotsky predicted correctly that if restoration would take place in his time (1930’s), it could succeed primarily with the brutality of fascism and civil war. But, brilliantly, he did not exclude in his writings the possibility that capitalism would be restored principally by the instruments of bourgeois” democracy”. At that time (the 1930’s), the Soviet masses were willing to give their life for socialism. Illusions in bourgeois democracy were barely in existence. But to succeed in its restorationist project, bourgeois democracy needs to get active support from some sectors of the broad masses – this was out of the question in the 1930’s. It was clear that the masses would not have tolerated bourgeois democracy and they were willing to actively resist restoration… The betrayal of the working class by social democracy and Stalinism in Western Europe brought about one the quietest decades of the class struggle (the 1980’s). This combined with the total capitulation of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the East, convinced imperialism and is agents to proceed with the creation of bourgeois parliaments and elections as the safest way to take state power. Thus the creation of such bourgeois bodies was a central step in the restorationist process.” (Introcor, Special Issue, LO Fete, 1993)

In the Spring of 1990 the first major test of unconditional defence of the DWSs was the re-unification of Germany. The LRCI demands were correct; unconditional defence of the GDR, political revolution in the East and socialist revolution in the West, and reunification of Germany as a socialist republic in a socialist united states of Europe. To win, workers must build workers’ councils and workers’ militia and convoke a “…congress of workers’ councils as the organ of state power of a German Workers’ Republic!” There was no mention of bourgeois parliaments or political parties to contest elections except to fight them with the institutions of ‘workers democracy’:

“If however, the bureaucracy is obliged to call parliamentary elections then we call for   workers to call prior mass meetings to select their candidates and to hear the candidates of all parties. The workers should demand annual elections and deputies who are recallable by their constituents. They should demand of all candidates a pledge to defend statified and planned property. By these means the fraud of bourgeois parliamentarism can be exposed, its dangers minimised and the principles of the system of workers’ councils fought for.” (‘The Political Revolution in East Germany’, Trotskyist International, 4, Spring, 1990)

Of course the outcome was decided by the betrayals of the Stalinists to imperialism and the pseudo-Trotskyists incapable of unconditional defence of the DWS. Despite the LRCI’s correct line, there was no revolutionary party with influence on the masses able to offer a revolutionary alternative to the ‘democratic counter-revolution.’ In October, 1990, the new East German section of the LRCI condemned the cynical use of bourgeois democracy by the imperialists and the Stalinists to fool the workers:

“The speed of the reunification and the brutal form of the Anschluss of the GDR, which contradicted the democratic pretences of the Federal Republic’s own constitution, has forced   the helpless and confused left to the sidelines of events…[the PDS] proposed alternative to Kohl’s unification of the two states – a referendum on the draft constitution drawn up by the Round Table – was trapped completely within the logic of bourgeois parliamentarism.” (‘Germany, united fatherland…’ Trotskyist International, 5, autumn, 1990, not online)

Why then, after such a spirited fight for workers democracy against bourgeois democracy in the German reunification, did the LRCI abandon the central plank in the Transitional Program in Russia a year later to align itself with a bourgeois restorationist faction of the bureaucracy lead by Boris Yeltsin? To explain this we develop the argument that we first put forward as the Proletarian Faction in the LRCI in 1995 to explain why instead of fighting the democratic counter-revolution, the LRCI joined it.

For all Dave Hughes’ knowledge of the Soviet Union, the break from Cliffism to orthodox Trotskyism in the mid-1980s proved incomplete. The Degenerated Revolution, which resulted from Hughes’ analysis of the workers states contained a basic flaw hidden in its method. The Soviet Union was conceived as an isolated DWS in which the main contradiction was between the Stalinist bureaucracy and workers’ (statified) property. For Trotsky the main contradiction was between workers property and global capitalism. The bureaucracy was a secondary or mediating contradiction and thus could be removed by a political revolution. This contradiction was represented in the separation of a ‘bourgeois state form’ and ‘statified property’.

The flaw in method emerged when the crisis of the workers states in E. Europe blew up in the late ‘80s. This disoriented the LRCI as the road to restoration proved not to be ‘civil war’ but “peaceful counter revolution.” The LRCI faced up to this fact with the German Anschluss, but lost its way in the Soviet Union when it confused bourgeois democracy and workers democracy. The LRCI began to talk of “democracy” in the abstract when describing the mobilisation of workers organisations against the Stalinist bureaucracy, suppressing the fact that behind this “democracy” was the main enemy, imperialism.

The IEC Resolution on the world situation in July, 1990, (section on “The Death Agony of Stalinism in the degenerated workers’ states”) refers to the “coming revolutionary crisis” in the USSR:

“The USSR is moving rapidly towards a revolutionary situation. This is shown by the mounting economic shortages, the mushrooming of independent workers’ organisations and the results of the Spring 1990 local elections which saw wholesale defeats for party candidates…[t]he oppressed nationalities, the civil rights activists and the working class have all taken action in defiance of [Gorbachevs] decrees. The workers are fighting for their democratic rights, for free trade unions, freedom of assembly, the right to strike, for improvements in wages, for greater equality, and against bureaucratic corruption. The foundation of an independent miners’ union and of the Confederation of Labour representing millions of Soviet proletarians, opens a whole new phase of the crisis.” [Our emphasis]

Already a year before the Yeltsin coup, we see that the LRCI ‘contradiction’ between Stalinism and statified property is manifest as workers fighting for bourgeois rights against the Stalinists. This is not the continuation of the permanent revolution by means of workers democracy – that is, workers organs of struggle independent from capital, but bourgeois ‘free’ trade unions, right to strike, equality, etc., of capitalist democracy; not workers democracy, but the ‘democratic counter-revolution’ independent from the Stalinist bureaucracythe now familiar democratic imperialist program of the ‘colour revolutions’. What we see here is the secondary contradiction displacing the main contradiction in an historic showdown within the ‘bourgeois’ state apparatus between fascism (Stalinist dictatorship) and democracy (workers control) disguised as the defence of workers property.

In the IEC Resolution on East Germany in July, 1990, we also find the LRCI leadership redefining Trotsky’s ‘unconditional defence of the Soviet Union’ as a conditional defence:

“Within the strategy of political revolution a vital distinction had to be drawn between defence of the post-capitalist property relations –obligatory for all Marxists – and illegitimate defence of the bureaucratic state apparatus, which was the principle enemy of the working class within the GDR; failure to make this distinction lay at the heart of the impotence of the left wing opponents of the state. It led the majority of those who genuinely wanted to prevent the restoration of capitalism into identifying mass mobilisations against the regime principally as attacks upon the property relations. By the same token, it also led them to see in the state apparatus a potential means of defending those property relations.” [Our emphasis]

The LRCI’s origins in the Cliffite tendency come back to the surface. For Trotsky ‘unconditional defence’ meant despite the bureaucracy, not against it. The bureaucracy is not the ‘main enemy’. This is a caricature of Trotskyism. As soon as you say the Stalinists are the main enemy you make ‘democratic imperialism’ the “lesser evil” to the Stalinist dictatorship. Then you begin to swim with the tide of workers who also see the Stalinists as the main enemy and begin to adapt to bourgeois democracy as the means of defeating the Stalinists. The failure of the left to fight for workers democracy is the failure of revolutionary leadership to stand firm on ‘unconditional defence’ as the main plank of the permanent revolution. Having only recently broken from state capitalism, the LRCI reverted to its flawed method, bending under the pressure of democratic imperialism and the influence on the E. German masses against the ‘main enemy’ Stalinism, subordinating ‘workers democracy’ to ‘bourgeois democracy.’ The logical endpoint of this Anschluss in the LRCI program was its capitulation to Yeltsin’s restorationist popular front in August, 1991.

The International Secretariat Resolution “The USSR at the Crossroads” adopted in February, 1991, already made clear that Yeltsin is moving to rally the pro-market forces in the Soviet Union..:

“Although the radical marketisers are excluded from the inner Bonapartist clique around Gorbachev, they still have positions of mass influence. Yeltsin and company were able to mobilise mass demonstrations in Moscow and other cities against the clampdown in Lithuania. Middle ranking officers and senior commanders in the army have expressed support for Yeltsin. He remains the most well known and popular alternative figure to Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s plebiscite on preserving the USSR and accepting the new Federation proposals will be a major trial of strength. Yeltsin’s own referendum for a popularly elected Russian and all-Union Federation is aimed at mobilising mass support and giving himself a “democratic mandate” to defy Gorbachev. Together with the Baltics, the western borderland republics and the Caucasus, the Russian Federation still presents a major obstacle to the conservatives.” [Our emphasis]

Nevertheless “Independent class forces will be obliged to defend…their democratic freedoms…alongside Yeltsin…”

“The final outcome will rest upon the attitude of the masses in general and the soldiers in particular. The working class has no interest in the triumph of either side in this debate between bureaucrats. Its historic and immediate interests lie in the preservation and extension of democratic freedoms and the nationalised and planned property relations. Independent class forces will be obliged to defend these liberties alongside Yeltsin and company, whilst not for one minute supporting the Yeltsinites’ seizure of power. On the other hand independent class forces are obliged to defend the statified economy alongside the conservatives whilst not for one minute abandoning the objective of overthrowing them.” (ibid. [our emphasis])

In the event of the conservatives’ coup 6 months later in August, the LRCI stood alongside Yeltsin defending ‘bourgeois democracy’ while refusing to back the coup because it was directed at the bourgeois democracy of the pro-market forces! The only position for revolutionaries in that situation was to defend the Red House in a workers’ united front to restore workers democracy by rebuilding the soviets independently of both the bureaucracy and the restorationists to defend workers property unconditionally. The RCIT continues to defend the LRCI position of a ‘conditional’ defence of workers’ property, that condition being that it will not bloc with Stalinists to defend workers’ property, while it will bloc with the bourgeois democrats aligned to imperialism! The fact that the LRCI saw the demise of Stalinism as a victory opening the road for workers to defend workers property explains its characterisation of the period as a “revolutionary period, counter-revolutionary phase.” For them, there was no world-historical defeat so long as the ‘main enemy’ was defeated, and the proletariat could live to fight for political revolution. For the LRCI and RCIT today bourgeois democracy was and is the ‘lesser evil’ to Stalinist ‘fascism’ and not a betrayal of permanent revolution.

From Permanent Revolution to Bourgeois Democracy

We have undertaken to trace the Epoch of permanent revolution beginning with Marx’s conception, including the three aspects isolated by Trotsky in his analysis, documenting the balance of forces for and against Permanent Revolution from 1871 through all the significant advances and retreats up to the present, and projecting its final victory in the future communism. We argued that from 1850 the task of developing the forces of production became the task of the proletariat. From that point the bourgeoisie became a reactionary class. In particular, bourgeois democracy was a reactionary class ideology that objectively formed a bulwark to revolutionary class consciousness and permanent revolution as the strategy of the proletariat playing its historic role as the revolutionary class capable of developing the forces of production.

We argue that the RCIT does not see the bourgeoisie as a completely reactionary class, and moreover does not see bourgeois democracy as a barrier to permanent revolution. In fact it argues that by defending bourgeois democracy the proletariat can “assist” the bourgeoisie to develop the forces of production. For us, this is the basis of Menshevism, where the proletariat plays an “auxiliary role” (in popular fronts) in completing the bourgeois democratic revolution to prepare the conditions for socialist revolution. Menshevism as a revisionist ‘evolutionary’ Marxism is a capitulation to social imperialism under pressure from the imperialist bourgeoisie.

The root of this revision is the RCIT conception of bourgeois democracy. We trace this to an incomplete split of the MRCI/LRCI from the state capitalist Cliffite SWP (Britain) in 1975. Trotsky explained that state capitalism was rooted in petty bourgeois Stalinophobia, which rejected dialectics and revived the split between state and society of bourgeois ideology. In the crisis of 1991 the LRCI reverted to its roots and blocked with the bourgeois restorationists against the Stalinist bureaucracy. The RCIT has never repudiated this betrayal by the LRCI and this is shown in its current defence of bourgeois democracy, reinforcing illusions in popular fronts and popular front parties.

We have seen that bourgeois democracy was only conceded by the bourgeoisie when forced by fear of socialist revolution to contain the revolution with “pseudo-democratic forms” that combined parliament backed by the bourgeois army. Bourgeois democracy traps the proletariat in the fetishised ideology of exchange relations, masking unequal production relations reproduced daily in the workplace and reinforced by the labour bureaucracy and Social Democracy inside or outside the popular fronts with the bourgeoisie and its “shadow” the Stalinists. Therefore, from the Paris Commune onward, to escape its exploitation, the proletariat has always sought to destroy the objectively counter-revolutionary bourgeois democracy by opposing to it a subjective workers democracy, implicitly and explicitly challenging the social relations that underpin the former with the strikes and occupations, councils, communes and armed insurrections of the latter.

However, this revolutionary subjectivity cannot transcend the reactionary objectivity of bourgeois democracy unless it becomes class-conscious. It has to break from fetishised bourgeois ideology that limits consciousness to the “class-in-itself” of labour subordinated to capital, to “class for-itself” as represented by the revolutionary party. Only the active intervention of the revolutionary party can transcend the bourgeois democratic and immediate demands of the old minimum program by means of the transitional method of the Transitional Program. That is why the strategy of Permanent Revolution is the method of the Transitional Program.


LCC, 13 June, 2015


[i] K. Marx, Early Writings, Introduction by L. Colletti. Pelican edition; Marx, Capital Volume 1, Chap 1 ‘Commodities’, Section on Fetishism of Commodities.

[ii] see Civil War in France,France capitulates and the Government of Thiers’.

[iii] “No common platform with the Social Democracy, or with the leaders of the German trade unions, no common publications, banners, placards! March separately, but strike together! Agree only how to strike, whom to strike, and when to strike! Such an agreement can be concluded even with the devil himself, with his grandmother, and even with Noske and Grezesinsky. On one condition, not to bind one’s hands.” (Trotsky, The Workers United Front against Fascism, ‘We Must Force the Social Democracy into a Bloc Against the Fascists’).

Trotsky refers to the Bolshevik policy towards Kerensky in 1917 where the Bolsheviks formed a military bloc with Kerensky against Kornilov, simultaneously exposing and splitting Social Revolutionary and Menshevik workers from its bourgeois leadership. Does this make Kerensky the “lesser evil”? No, the “democrat” Kerensky is no less a counter-revolutionary than the “reactionary” Kornilov but a military bloc can unite the workers against Kornilov and prove this fact to those who have illusions in the popular front government. In the event Kornilov was defeated, Kerensky was exposed as conspiring with Kornilov to smash the revolution, and shortly after the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Soviets to stage the insurrection.

[iv] “Verbal genuflections before the soviets are equally as fashionable in the “left” circles as the misconception of their historical function. Most often the soviets are defined as the organs of struggle for power, as the organs of insurrection, and finally, as the organs of dictatorship. Formally these definitions are correct. But they do not at all exhaust the historical function of the soviets. First of all they do not explain why, in the struggle for power, precisely the soviets are necessary. The answer to this question is: just as the trade union is the rudimentary form of the united front in the economic struggle, so the soviet is the highest form of the united front under the conditions in which the proletariat enters the epoch of fighting for power. The soviet in itself possesses no miraculous powers. It is the class representation of the proletariat, with all of the latter’s strong and weak points. But precisely and only because of this does the soviet afford to the workers of divers political trends the organizational opportunity to unite their efforts in the revolutionary struggle for power. In the present pre-revolutionary environment it is the duty of the most advanced German workers to understand most clearly the historical function of the soviets as the organs of the united front…The Social Democracy and the Communist Party divide in Germany the influence over the working class. The Social Democratic leadership does its best to repel the workers from itself. The leadership of the Communist Party strives with all its might to counteract the influx of the workers. As a consequence we get the formation of a third party and a comparatively slow change in the correlation of forces in favor of the Communists. But even if Communist Party policies were entirely correct, the workers’ need for a revolutionary unification of the class would have grown incomparably faster than the preponderance of the Communist Party within the class. The need of creating soviets would thus remain in its full scope. The creation of the soviets presupposes that the different parties and organizations within the working class, beginning with the factories, become agreed, both as regards the very necessity for the soviets and as regards the time and methods of their formation. Which means: since the soviets, in themselves, represent the highest form of the united front in the revolutionary epoch, therefore their inception must be preceded by the policy of the united front in the preparatory period.” (What Next: vital questions for the German Proletariat. Section 8Through the United Front to the Soviets as the Highest Organs of the United Front’)

In Defence of Trotskyism: An Open Letter to All Members and Supporters of the LRCI

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The following is an historic document written by the Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency (RTT) to the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) criticising the change in the latter’s program, The Trotskyist Manifesto on ‘unconditional defence of the USSR’ to make a united front with capitalist restorationists, and on the League’s practice of ‘democratic centralism’. Shortly afterwards, the LRCI severed fraternal relations with the RTT.


November 30 1991

Dear Comrades,

The International Secretariat (IS) of the LRCI has declared war against the RTT. In its latest letter to the RTT, signed by comrade Frankel and dated November 14, 1991, the IS gave the RTT an ultimatum. The IS basically said that unless the RTT declares that its differences with the LRCI over the popular front with Yeltsin are tactical, and joins the LRCI soon, the IS will likely break fraternal relations with the RTT, which means that the RTT possibly will not be invited to the LRCI’s Congress even as an observer with the right to speak. After demanding that the RTT clarify whether the nature of the differences is tactical or principled, the IS threatened:

“We need some answers to these questions if the IS is to recommend to the congress the continuation of fraternal relations. It can only do so on the basis that they are likely to lead in the foreseeable future in the RTT joining the LRCI. Clearly this also has implications for your attendance at the congress.” (Nov. 14 letter, our emphasis).

In other words, if the answers given by the RTT do not satisfy the IS, it will break relations with the RTT and will decline to invite the RTT to the LRCI Congress.

The letter came somewhat as a shock. First, it contains unbelievable falsifications of the history of the fraternal relations between the LRCI and the RTT. Second, it is an open attack on the Marxist tradition, principally on the nature of democratic centralism. The letter tries to create an insurmountable wall between the RTT and members of the LRCI. It portrays the RTT as an enemy of the LRCI, and prepares the members of the LRCI to accept the breaking off of fraternal relations.

The RTT rejects the use of such a method by supposedly the highest cadres of a revolutionary international. In this open letter we will set the record of fraternal relations straight and show the superiority of the Marxist method in comparison to the eclectic and petty bourgeois method of the IS. We will show the class character behind the IS’s political positions on Stalinism. Awe will also show what is behind the attempts to discredit the RTT and prevent the necessary clarification of the political differences. We believe that this is the act of a petty bourgeois leadership that cannot defend its political positions and instead utilizes the organizational whip.

The RTT does not want to break fraternal relations with the LRCI. We have full confidence in our positions and methods. We are sure that the coming developments in the USSR and Eastern Europe will prove the correctness of our positions. We want to continue the discussions for the next six months, as was proposed by the IS, with the objective of narrowing the differences down to the point that the RTT could join the LRCI. But the IS has given us an ultimatum. From the letter it is clear that the IS does not want to continue the democratic discussions in the best tradition of the workers’ movement; that it sees them as a threat, because it cannot defend its centrist positions against Marxism. This leaves us no option but to appeal to all the members of the LRCI to continue the discussions. We know that our positions are gaining support within the membership of Workers Power (Britain) and possibly other sections.

The political history of the fraternal relations, without falsifications

The November 14 letter from Frankel contains many falsifications regarding the history between the RTT and LRCI. Frankel’s general method in the letter is eclectic and petty. There is no serious attempt on his part to use the Marxist dialectical method in looking at the historical development of the relations. His main concern is to create a barrier between the RTT and the members of the LRCI, and in doing so he falsifies our common history. Unlike comrade Frankel, we will take a serious look at that history and examine it politically, using the dialectical method.

When we entered into discussions with the LRCI, we had important differences with it. These differences were centered on the Anti-Imperialist United Front (AIUF) and the permanent revolution, Stalinism (Afghanistan), reformism and the question of the oppressed (women, sectoralism etc). We considered the LRCI to be a left centrist organization which was moving in a revolutionary direction. Despite some disagreement with the Trotskyist Manifesto (TM), we thought that it represented a clear move towards revolutionary Trotskyist positions and we were willing to engage in serious discussions with the LRCI with a view to joining it. On the other hand, we knew that abstract program is not enough. We had to win over the LRCI on key historical events in which abstract programs are tested against pressures to capitulate to alien class forces. We concluded that the defense of the gains of the Iranian revolution was the most important concrete example. After extended discussion (three weeks in October 1989 and two weeks in April-May 1990), the differences on the oppressed and reformism narrowed considerably. Since the IS agreed with Winter to propose a number of amendments to TM at the next Congress, there we no major disputes between the LRCI and the RTT on the former questions. But the differences on the AIUF and Stalinism remained less close to being resolved.

Khomeini and Yeltsin: What do they have in common?

The area of disagreement regarding the AIUF concentrated on the Iraq/Iran war. Several differences exist on the war, including some on the exact character of the war. But the crucial difference was regarding the bloc with Khomeini and the semi-fascist Islamic Revolutionary Guards. In 1980-1982, Workers Power had called for a united front with Khomeini and the semi-fascist Islamic Revolutionary Guards, supposedly to defend the Iranian revolution against Hussein (Iraq) and imperialism. We told the comrades from the IS that one could not propose a united front with reactionary forces who were engaged in savage attacks against the working masses and the Left. By 1982, when Workers Power called off the united front with Khomeini and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Khomeini and company had managed to destroy the Shoras, and they had massacred thousands of workers, peasants and Leftists. We told the comrades from the IS that it was Khomeini and the Islamic Guards that destroyed the gains of the revolution and not Hussein (of course, he would have done so if he had won the war). In September 1989, shortly before coming to London in October, Winter wrote to the LRCI:

The main reason that WP gave for the ‘united front’ was the defense of the workers’ and peasants’ gains stemming from the Iranian revolution. Before I deal with the united front in general, I want to deal with the united front with the Pasdaran (Islamic Revolutionary Guard). I hope that the proposal for a united front with the Pasdaran was either a typographical error or a result of misinformation, i.e., that at the time, WP did not understand the nature of the Pasdaran due to lack of information from Iran. A year later, WP correctly characterized the Islamic Revolutionary Guards as a semi-fascist organisation. I assume that as a matter of principle a Trotskyist organization would never propose a united front with a semi-Fascist organization whose main reason for existence was to destroy, by fascistic and brutal methods (which were not fundamentally any different from the Nazis’ methods), any independent organization of the workers, peasants and oppressed minorities…

I want to leave no room for doubt about the nature of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. The Pasdaran was a tightly controlled mass black hundred of the IRP. Like any traditional Fascist organization, it assembled cadres and members from the worst ranks of the lumpenproletariat and dissatisfied petty bourgeoisie. Its only goal was the consolidation of the bourgeois state by smashing any resistance from the masses. For that purpose, its members were indoctrinated with the worst aspects of Islamic ideology, with the aim of waging a holy and brutal war against the militant opponents of the regime. The Pasdaran was the main force that physically guaranteed the consolidation of the Islamic bourgeois dictatorship…

…[I]t was not possible to have a united front with the executioners of the revolution and to defeat them as the same time. While WP did state clearly that a united front with the Iranian Army (including the officers) was not a precondition to the dire need for the working class and peasantry to overthrow the Khomeini regime, it still left me very anxious when I read that the overthrow of the Islamic Republic was not a precondition to any meaningful united front against the Iraqi invasion. WP certainly should be credited for being principled for saying very clearly that the independence of revolutionaries and the workers’ organizations was a pre-condition for a united front with the Khomeini forces. But the whole point is that such independence was impossible politically and militarily with the forces that were destroying the gains of the revolution. Don’t you think that it was necessary to tell the workers clearly, that Khomeini’s forces who were destroying the workers’ and the oppressed people’s organizations would have never agreed to a united front with the organizations that they were destroying and that a united military front with the Khomeini forces was not possible without total political subordination. By saying that, revolutionaries would have made it clear to the workers, that the Islamic state was more interested to destroy their revolutionary gains than fighting the Iraqis. It was therefore necessary to defeat Khomeini’s forces in the army and the Shoras as a pre-condition for any genuine united front between revolutionaries, workers’ organizations and the army against the Iraqis. I genuinely believe that agreeing on this point will be a big step forward for a principled agreement between us on the Iran/Iraq war.(Letter to the MRCI, Sep. 26, 1989)

Comrades may ask, what does the united front with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Khomeini have to do with the united front with Yeltsin? The answer is: everything. The method is the same. It is not permissible to form a cross class bloc with reactionary forces at a time when they are destroying the historical gains of the working class. In the case of Khomeini it was the gains from the Iranian revolution – in the case of Yeltsin it is the workers’ state. A cross-class bloc is permissible only in strict times when the bourgeois forces are engaged in a progressive struggle despite themselves. In such strict cases a victory, even if the bourgeoisie remains in the leadership, would be progressive. Thus, in the case of the Gulf war, for example, a victory to Hussein and Iraq would have meant revolutionary struggles throughout the Middle East and even in the US, because the defeat of US imperialism would have had a devastating effect on the imperialist order, far greater than the negative effects of Hussein’s dictatorship. Thus, given the overall progressive character of t3eh war against imperialism, one could not exclude in advance a strict and limited critical military united front with the Iraqi regime (in the sense that workers’ militias and the Iraqi army would be shooting in the same direction). But the cases of Khomeini and Yeltsin were the exact opposite, where a united front could have only led to the historical defeat of the masses.

When we started discussions with the LRCI (then the MRCI) we were aware that the leadership tends to make a fetish out of the united front tactic. We were also aware that the differences involved principled differences. In the case of Khomeini and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the LRCI’s position was a capitulation to progressive petty bourgeois opinion in the centrist Left, which (up to 1981) viewed Khomeini and company as progressive fighters. In the case of Yeltsin, the same public opinion viewed him as a “defender of democracy”.

But precisely because we understood and did not hide the nature of the differences, we insisted that they should be clarified before the RTT would join the LRCI. Comrade Winter spent a great deal of time in April-May 1990 struggling with the leadership of the LRCI on the question of Khomeini and the Pasdaran. After a week of sharp discussion with the comrade who was then known as Keenan, the differences between Winter and Keenan narrowed. Keenan wrote a document submitted to the IEC which basically agreed that from sometime in 1981, when Khomeini was engaged in a massive massacre against the Left, a united front with Khomeini and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards was a mistake.

Comrade Keenan’s views fell on sympathetic ears in the rest of the IEC. Nobody argued against them. On this basis Winter was open to the initiation of fraternal relations with the LRCI. The IEC made it clear to Winter that for the time being, there were the personal views of Keenan, and that the IEC did not have a position on the matter (the united front with Khomeini and the Pasdaran was a Workers Power position which predated the MRCI and the LRCI). Comrades from the IS promised Winter that the IEC would discuss the Iran/Iraq war as soon as possible and asked Winter whether the RTT would join the LRCI on the basis of the agreement reached on the proposed amendments to the TM. Comrade Winter rejected this proposal, however, saying that joint experience between the groups would be needed before the RTT would join. Winter also said that the RTT would wait for a formal position on the Iran/Iraq war before it would consider joining the LRCI, and that more clarification and discussion were needed on Stalinism, specifically after sharp differences arose on Lithuania. These were the discussions that led to the formation of fraternal relations.

The fraternal relations after Winter returned to the US

Comrade Frankel is not bad at throwing formalities at us. His November 14 letter quotes extensively from the internal resolution on fraternal relations that was reached between the RTT (via Winter) and the IS. He points out triumphantly that the process of discussion was supposed to end by December 1990, with the clear objective of having the RTT join the LRCI by the Second Congress (which was supposed to take place in August 1991). But in his zeal to expose how unserious were the RTT’s intentions to join the LRCI, he forgets a trifle: the dialectic of real life. Let us examine how the fraternal relations proceeded in real life.

After comrade Winter returned to the US in May 1990, the RTT (which at the time consisted of two people) needed a program and a paper; no one disputed this. When it managed to produce its first issue (International Trotskyist #1) in August 1990, even the IS was quite impressed. Unfortunately, this was also the time that US imperialism began to build up its forces in preparation for a war against Iraq. Thus the RTT, with the full approval of the LRCI, put all its energy into the anti-war movement instead of discussing and resolving the differences with the LRCI. The LRCI sent comrade J. to the US to assist. In general these were the golden days of the fraternal relations. The positions of the RTT and the LRCI on the war were close, and the whole experience was viewed as very positive on both sides. By the time the war was over, it was two months after the Dec 1990 deadline for “completing the process of discussion”. But both sides understood that the logic of the class struggle and the initiation of the RTT as an organization had postponed the discussion. No one was disturbed by this.

The RTT did not forget, however, that the discussion on the Iran/Iraq war and Stalinism still had to be completed. Winter reminded the IS of this several times. In a letter to the IS written in Dec. 1990, Winter wrote:

…our experience and joint work in particular over the question of the war was very positive. But before we officially join the LRCI we need to finish the discussion that we carried out in London. We would like to finish the discussion on Stalinism (in particular on solidarity work with the workers in the degenerated workers’ state,  since we think that the differences on Lithuania reveal potential [different] methodological approaches – i.e., we want to be sure that this was only a tactical difference in a particular situation).

The RTT and the LRCI did not official arrive at a common position on the Iran/Iraq war. We can live with the Keenan position on the Iran/Iraq war that he submitted to the IEC in April (May?) 1990. His position is much closer to the method and analysis of the RTT. While we know that the comrades of the IEC were open to Keenan’s position, the matter was never discussed and resolved within the LRCI. We would like the LRCI to carry this discussion. We want to be sure that our method on the Iraq/Iran wars is accepted by the LRCI and not only by Keenan. And last, we want to carry a discussion on what a democratic centralist International means. We think that at different levels of development (of the International) and intensity of the class struggle the relationship between ‘democracy’ and ‘centralism’ can vary (that depends a lot also on the maturity of the leadership). We ought to clarify this issue to be sure that the RTT is in agreement with the LRCI about its rights and responsibilities. (Here I just want to say briefly that despite the fact that we are not a section we were very careful in avoiding publishing or stating publicly any differences that we have with the LRCI. We hope that it helped to establish the fact that we are loyal to the LRCI.)  (Letter from Winter to the IS, Dec 11, 1990)

We will deal with Stalinism and democratic centralism later. But on the question of the Iran/Iraq war the LRCI leadership was evasive. They said that they were too busy, mainly with Stalinism and East Germany. They did not have time to discuss an “old” question of a war that took place ten years ago. But it was the “old” method of approaching the united front with Khomeini and the Pasdaran that started to dominate the LRCI’s method on Stalinism. The leadership of the LRCI was considering a united front with the open restorationist forces as a lesser evil alternative to the Stalinists, the same way they considered the Pasdaran to be a lesser evil to Hussein ten years ago. But since we thought that it was a matter of formality, and that after the IEC discussed the Iran/Iraq war it would accept Keenan’s position, we did not insist; we waited patiently for the IEC to convene a discussion.

Thinking in hindsight, this was a mistake. We should have insisted that the discussion on the Iran/Iraq war be carried out immediately. If we had conducted that discussion and clarified the method of the united front, we might have been able to save the LRCI from making a drastic mistake in August 1991.

In Feb. 1991 comrade Lynch arrived for discussion in the Bay Area. The RTT once again reminded him of the need to discuss the Iran/Iraq question, to finalize clarity on the AIUF, before the RTT would join the LRCI. By this time it was probably too late; sharp differences emerged on Stalinism and the discussion on Stalinism was more urgent. The RTT sharply disagreed with comrade Lynch on a united front with the Sajudis to defend Lithuania against the Stalinist bureaucracy. The RTT told comrade Lynch that only independent mobilizations of the working class were permissible to defend Lithuania – no united front was possible with the restorationists who were determined to destroy the workers’ state. At this time, both sides decided that Stalinism was the most urgent question and that the united front with Khomeini and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards had to wait.

Too late and too bad.  It is our obligation to tell comrade Frankel at this point that it was the fault of the LRCI leadership and not the RTT that the discussion on the united front with Khomeini and company was not continued. When Winter was in London in April-May 1990, it was agreed that the IEC would carry forward the discussion as soon as possible. A year and a half has already passed since the IEC promised comrade Winter to discuss it!

We also wish to remind the IS that only eight months ago, comrade Lynch understood the complexity of the LRCI/RTT relations. Unlike the IS today, he did not give us any ultimatum for joining because of growing political differences (at the time they were growing indeed). Nor was comrade Lynch concerned about deadlines that were breached. In fact, he even considered as a sober necessity the idea that the RTT would not join at the Second Congress. Let comrade Lynch’s report on the RTT speak for itself:

…[A]t the second meeting with the three RTT members I prompted a discussion on progress towards full entry into the LRCI’s democratic centralist framework. The obstacles to this are at three levels. First, the remaining political obstacles. The experience in the work in the anti-war movement and the co-operation in this with the LRCI have enormously increased the convergence between us and them. Further, the outstanding problem of the LRCI’s position on the Iran/|Iraq war has diminished in its centrality for the RTT as an obstacle to joining the LRCI. They would clearly like this issue to be resolved in the direction of the IEC adopting the draft resolution tabled sometime ago by Keenan but accept that this may well not happen before the Congress and were open to the argument that this could more profitably be concluded with Winter present hopefully as a member of a future IEC.

The main problem remains around the analysis of Stalinism. The differences over the process of restoration are not so problematic and are containable and have indeed already been raised by a member of the Ast; they do not seem to have any significant programmatic pay load. But the Baltics discussion is more problematic and portends possible differences over the broader process of bureaucratic counter-revolution in the USSR. We must resolve these and this underlines the importance of getting Winter over in May.

Beyond this political-programmatic issue there is the problem of the RTT’s present size. At one level they are too small to be a section at present, nor do they have full democratic centralism within. But the key question about the size issue is the inability of the RTT to carry out its responsibilities to the LRCI as a section (following debates, contributing etc). At present this is in doubt. I also pointed out the strains that exist within the LRCI at present in providing effective leadership to existing small sections of the LRCI far away from the centre and the problem of adding to this difficulty by taking on small sections. In general the comrades are very sober on this and are prepared to accept that the Second Congress may be too soon for full entry. (Report of Lynch on CLNZ/RTT, 5 March 1991)

The real history of the differences on Stalinism, and comrade Frankel’s falsifications

In his November 14 letter, comrade Frankel does an interesting job trying to prove that the RTT’s position on Stalinism changed in August 1991 to a “sectarian” position. At one point in the letter he states that:

The RTT has repeatedly presented the matter of this change [the change of the LRCI position in favour of supporting open restorationists] as though in August we suddenly, and in a fit of yielding to democratic pressure, crossed to the wrong side of the barricades. (Nov. 14 letter)

After going on to “prove” that Winter had no differences on Lithuania in the May 1990 IEC (about which we will say more later), he concludes:

Our purpose in going through these examples is to prove that there has been no sudden change of position on the part of the LRCI. Quite the opposite. If anything it is the RTT that, under pressure of the bureaucratic conservatives miserable fiasco and Yeltsin’s triumph, and perhaps the Yugoslav civil war, have retreated into a sectarian method that pre-dates our adoption of fraternal realtions in 1990. (ibid)

Thus the RTT discovered its differences with the LRCI concerning the open restorationists and the yielding to democratic pressure only under the “conservatives…fiasco and Yeltsin’s triumph, and perhaps [?] the Yugoslav civil war”, that is, around summer 1991.

Once again, comrade Frankel’s memory needs refreshing. The RTT and the comrades who founded it raised sharp criticisms of the LRCI’s position on Stalinism, and in particular the LRCI’s capitulation to the “democratic” pressure, all the way back at the beginning of 1990. Our positions were consistent, they did not change.

In a letter to Workers Power before coming to the April-May 1990 discussion (which led to the fraternal relations), Winter wrote pedagogically:

We have only potentially somewhat serious differences on one slogan: ‘No to four or five year parliaments. For a maximum of one year for any parliament’.

I think that the slogan is confusing and is a mistake, for the current situation in E. Europe. It looks like you are trying to establish a ‘bridge’ between parliament and Soviets, with the hope (or aim) that one year experience of parliament will help overcome the present consciousness of the masses (who have illusions in the parliamentary system). But in my opinion, such a ‘bridge’ could be easily destroyed by the capitalist counter-revolution even before ‘one year’ of bourgeois parliament is over. Even if the masses will agree with the slogan and put pressure to limit the parliamentary term for one year, it will not reverse in a serious way the tempo of capitalist restoration which is done today primarily by the ‘democratic’ bourgeois organs (i.e., parliaments).

In one year the elected capitalists governments in E. Germany and Hungary, for example, could establish a bourgeois state apparatus, and succeed in subordinating the army and police to the counter-revolutionary aims of restoration. In a year, the elected parliamentary governments could smash the workers’ state and establish the fundamental apparatus of the capitalist state.

Time is a crucial factor in E. Europe right now. We cannot afford to let the workers test the illusions of a bourgeois parliament even for a year. We must tell them point blank that the capitalist parliament is one of the key organs used to smash the workers’ state and their gains of this state. We must insist that the only way out is to build alternative proletariat organs to defend the workers gains against the capitalist government that was ‘elected’ by parliament.

It is not the same like in the capitalist states where it is necessary to defend bourgeois democracy against fascism. Here, the capitalist government and parliament is used to destroy the workers’ state and plunge humanity backward in history.

Of course, communists should participate in the elections, and use them as a propaganda tool to advocate proletarian alternatives to parliament. It may be even necessary to defend parliament if, for example, the fascists try to destroy it. But the only way for the workers to lose their illusions in the parliamentary system is to defend their gains (of the workers’ states) against the parliamentary government, using their independent organizations (soviets, workers’ councils).

I think that you put forward in the LRCI’s theses very good proposals on how to build proletarian alternatives to the parliaments. It is important in my opinion to put all the energy into the struggle to build workers’ councils and other independent working class organizations, and to counterpose them to the parliament. At the present crucial struggle in defence of the workers’ states, even one year of parliament may very well prove to be long enough for the capitalist restoration to successfully destroy the workers’ state. (Letter from Winter to IEC, March 30 1990).

There is no need for editorializing here; the letter, written over a year ago, speaks for itself.

Comrade Frankel triumphantly waves at us an amendment by Winter at the IEC meeting in May 1990 on Lithuania (we’ll deal with the content of the amendment later), which, according to comrade Frankel, agrees with the IS’s position on the national question. Comrade Frankel even goes so far as to say, with glee in his eyes, that the RTT and Winter did not object to the united front with the Lithuanian nationalists until:

…under pressure of the bureaucratic conservatives miserable fiasco and Yeltsin’s triumph, and perhaps the Yugoslav civil war, have retreated into a sectarian method that pre-dates our adoption of fraternal relations in 1990. (Nov 14 letter)

Really? In his presentation of the IEC discussion in May 1990, comrade Frankel does not tell us that the discussion by the IEC did not concern a united front with the Lithuanian Nationalists but rather a resolution put forward by the IS which called for imperialist recognition of Lithuania, and economic support to break the Stalinist blockade. At the IEC, comrade Winter carried out a sharp polemic against the resolution. He put forward several amendments, most of which were rejected. On this basis, comrade Winter told the IS afterwards that important differences still remained on Stalinism, which had to be clarified before the RTT would join the LRCI. The differences on Lithuania were formulated in International Trotskyist #1 as “their [revolutionary] solidarity with the oppressed republics inside the workers’ states” (p. 9) and they were given as one of the reasons that the RTT was not a section yet.

Winter’s differences were later adopted by the RTT, and they were published in the latest Trotskyist International (as a polite letter, since this is a public debate). When comrade Lynch came to the Bay Area at the beginning of this year (Feb. 1991), the RTT had a full debate with him on the united front with the Lithuanian Nationalists. In his report comrade Lynch summarised the discussion thus

On the Baltics the difference was more serious in my opinion. E expressed a position on ‘conditional self-determination’ (i.e. only as a workers republic) that was far closer to the ISt and BT than the LRCI. Winter was closer to the LRCI but balked at the idea that in defending the right to self-determination this may involve us not only defending the elements of proletarian democracy wrested from the bureaucracy after 1985 but also siding with the bourgeois nationalists with Saujudis against attempts by the Kremlin to shut down parliament, suppress the bourgeois press in the Baltics etc, being in favour of the unconditional release of all (except fascists) political prisoners arrested by the Kremlin etc. In my opinion this discussion revealed a fairly strong sectarian residue in the RTT thinking. (Report of [Lynch] on CLNZ/RTT, 5 March 1991)

While comrade Lynch was incorrect that there were significant differences between comrades E and Winter, he is correct in asserting that both of us were against a united front with the nationalists. Thus we simply do not understand where comrade Frankel got the idea that we agreed with the LRCI on the united front with restorationists until the Yugoslavian civil war and the Yeltsin counter-coup. According to comrade Frankel, it was only then that the RTT “became” sectarian.

Comrade Frankel does not know when to stop the distortions and falsifications about how the relations between the RTT and LRCI actually evolved. He correctly states that the position on the united front with the restorationists and the support for open restorationists to function freely in the USSR was already adopted by the IS in the resolution “The USSR at the Crossroads”. After quoting his own statement from the minutes of the Easter 1991 IEC, which supported the same positions, comrade Frankel declares:

This provoked not only no protest but no dissent either then or since. (Nov 14 letter)

Really? Immediately after we received the draft resolution, “The USSR at the Crossroads” we sent proposed amendments which included:

The RTT proposes that following amendments to the LRCI’s theses entitled ‘The USSR at the Crossroads’. (All references and quotations are to the version ‘as amended by the International Secretariat 10.2.91; we are advised that only stylistic changes have been made since that date)

1       Page 6, section 4.14

Change: “Independent class forces will be obliged to defend [sic] those liberties alongside Yeltsin and company, whilst not for one minute supporting the Yeltsinites seizure of power: On the other hand independent class forces are obliged to defend the statified economy alongside the conservatives whilst not for one minute abandoning the objective of overthrowing them.”

To: “ Independent class forces will be obliged to defend these liberties, such as the right of workers to assemble, to publish and to form independent unions, as well as the right to form organizations free from Stalinist suppression. These liberties are important democratic rights to be utilized on the road to the political revolution.

“While, for now, the reality is such that when workers demonstrate against anti-democratic measures, they do so alongside pro-capitalist forces, this is not a reality that the vanguard of the workers desires. No united front with restorationists is possible on the road to the political revolution. Yeltsin and company will try to implement forms of bourgeois democracy to restore capitalism. Their support of democracy must be exposed by the vanguard of the workers as independent class forces will not for one minute support the Yeltsinites’ seizure of power…’

2  Page 9, section 6.8

Change: “Defend and extend democratic rights – the freedom of assembly, the press, radio and TV against the bureaucratic censors. For the freedom to demonstrate, the right to strike and to form political parties (except fascist parties).

To:  “ Defend, support and extend democratic rights of the working class – the freedom of assembly, the press, radio and TV, against the bureaucratic censors. For the freedom to demonstrate and the right to strike and to form political parties (except openly restorationist parties).

(Letter from RTT to IS, March 5, 1991, our emphasis)

In the letter on the amendments we gave the following reasons for them:

Our only serious substantive problem with the theses is in regard to bourgeois democratic institutions and parties. The theses tend to confuse workers’ democratic rights and liberties with bourgeois democracy and restorationist bourgeois parties. The theses mix them up under ‘general’ democratic rights and thus portray pro-capitalist parties and pro-capitalist institutions as progressive, and as worthy of being defended on an equal footing with collective property relations.

This is a serious error. Revolutionary Marxists don’t support the right of openly restorationist, pro-capitalist parties to operate freely and assemble support for the overthrow of the workers’ states and for the restoration of capitalism. This basic principle does not change when these forces use democratic institutions (parliaments etc) for these purposes.

The meaning of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was explained by Lenin hundreds of times. In the workers’ state, the democratic rights of parties and organizations which try to restore capitalism should not be supported and in fact should be suppressed by the workers’ soviets. The fact that the USSR is a degenerated workers’ state (or degenerated dictatorship of the proletariat) does not change this fundamental principle. What may change is only the tactics of how to apply it.

When the theses ‘Defend and extend democratic rights – to form political parties (except fascist parties)’ they defend and extend the right to form active capitalist counter-revolutionary parties as long as they obey the rules of bourgeois democracy. This is in contradiction to the principles of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., that parties which try to restore capitalism in the workers’ states should be suppressed and should not have democratic rights. The great success of the restorationists in Germany who restored capitalism by bourgeois democratic means, as well as the potential successes of similar forces in other E. European countries, serves to reinforce this principle.

When Trotsky wrote about the USSR, he thought that the way bourgeois counter-revolution could organize and surface was primarily by means of a fascist coup and dictatorship. He did not and not could foresee the actual way in which the bureaucratized workers’ states are disintegrating today. Nevertheless, his main reason for opposing fascist or proto-fascist parties in the USSR was not that they were fascist, but that he believed capitalism could be restored with the fascist fist.

It happens that after 65 years of Stalinist dictatorship, the readiness of the working class to defend the gains of October is not as firm as it was in the 1930s, and bourgeois capitalist counter-revolution can safely (at least until now) come to power and try (we can at least agree on that) to restore capitalism using the deception of bourgeois institutions and parties. This is the chief way in which the pre-restorationist forces are attempting to restore capitalism in E. Europe and the USSR.

So what are the tasks of the working class? The workers must object to the formation of openly reactionary bourgeois parties and formations. The workers must be told that the restorationist organizations will use democratic institutions such as parliaments and governments chose by parliamentary elections, to restore capitalism, i.e., to impose mass unemployment, privatise industry, etc.

The workers must learn that the fraudulent election of representatives to parliaments or other pro-capitalist institutions by atomized ‘citizens’ will not change things for the better, but most likely for the worse. Conscious proletarians must counterpose workers’ democracy to the deceptive bourgeois democracy. That should be done by the creation of genuine soviets and genuine workers democracy within new unions, factory committees and strike committees, in which workers’ control and defense of the plan must be starkly posed against the Yeltsinites proposals for bourgeois democracy with market autonomy.

Today, ‘democracy’ without a progressive class content is reactionary and its ‘freedoms’ are used to stage brainstorming sessions for the dismantling of the gains of the plan. In the new trade unions in the USSR, the marketers must be exposed and defeated. Without doing all this, talk about democratic rights and liberties is nothing but hollow phrases and crude illusions.” (ibid)

In International Trotskyist #3 (which came out in march 1991), we published sharp statements about the need to counterpose workers’ democracy to bourgeois democracy; we even published Trotsky’s quotation (from 1929) to which the IS today objects. But we received no response or comments from the IS for months. We were only told that our amendments arrived too late for discussion by the IS, although we rushed to draft them as soon as we could, and they were sent only a few days after we received the draft “The USSR at the Crossroads”.

We were very patient. We were eager to discuss with the IS. The comrades were biting their nails for three months waiting for a response. Finally, after three months of total silence from the IS, we started to get a bit impatient. On June 6, we sent Workers Power a letter about the differences on Lithuania. The position calling on imperialism to recognize Lithuania and support it economically had appeared publicly in TI #6. We felt that, while we were more than willing to sell the paper, we could not simply present the IEC’s resolutions on Lithuania as the RTT’s. We asked the comrades to publish our disagreements in Workers Power. Curiously, the initial response was positive. Then comrade Frankel talked to comrade Winter, and told him that it would be better if the RTT letter were to appear in TI instead of Workers Power. Comrade Frankel said that the IS had not discussed the letter, and had not prepared a response. He said that just publishing it in Workers Power without the IS’s response would leave the rank-and-file open to attacks from the RIL and the Spartacists. He told Winter that if the RTT insisted, they would publish it in Workers Power anyway. But we were very patient, and we told the comrades that we could wait. And so we did – we waited four months (until October 1991) until we first saw out letter in TI.

After not receiving any response for three months to its proposed amendments on the USSR, the RTT wrote the IS a sharper letter:

The RTT feels that there are significant differences between the RTT and the LRCI on the question of Stalinism and the national question in the deformed/degenerated workers’ states. It is important that these differences be dealt with as soon as possible. In the time available to for writing this letter, we have only been able to summarize the key areas of difference between us. We propose that between now and September the RTT will write a more detailed document about these differences. I (Winter) have already discussed with [Lynch] the possibility of my coming to London for two to three weeks in mid-September. Hopefully my visit will enable us to clarify and resolve these and other differences.

Meanwhile, we are disappointed that you have not yet responded to our proposed amendments to the IEC resolution on the USSR; it is now almost three months since we sent them. This is especially disturbing because we know from comrades’ comments in IB 36 that you have rejected the amendments. We encourage you to detail your reasons for the rejection as soon as possible. As will become clears as you read through this letter, such a response would contribute significantly to the discussion we would like to have with you. June 10, 1991)

As early as March, we had outlined what our position would be in the struggle between the conservatives and Yeltsin, and we re-stated it as follows in our June 10 letter:

1)The LRCI perceives bourgeois democracy in Eastern Europe and the USSR as an important gain that goes together with other democratic gains of the working class. The RTT, on the other hand, perceives bourgeois democracy today as the most important political method by which capitalist restoration seizes state power. We believe that the LRCI rejects Trotsky’s method of counterposing workers’ democracy to bourgeois democracy as a life and death method in defending the workers’ state and defeating the bourgeois counter-revolution.

2)This difference in method is manifested in several areas with regard to revolutionary tactics toward the Stalinists and the restorationists. We disagree with a ‘united front’ from above with the restorationist forces – e.g., a pact with the nationalists or the Yeltsinites. In the current historical situation such pacts will only betray the historical needs and goals of the working class and facilitate the restoration of capitalism, thus setting back the historical gains of the working class in the workers’ states.

The recent pact between Gorbachev and Yeltsin illustrates with absolute clarity that the only ‘united fronts’ from above which are possible today are united fronts against the working class between the semi-open restorationists (Gobachev) and the open restorationists. In essence their pact (together with the agreement that was reached with the leaders of the six republics) consists of deeper threats to the workers’ state (the mines will be privatized under Yeltsin’s command!) combined with savage attacks against the democratic rights of the working class (the right to strike, to resist Bonapartist dictatorship, etc.). Thus, any talk about a possible united front with Yeltsin in defense of democracy in the current historical circumstances can only sow illusions of the worst kind. How can we have a united front with the forces that are currently engaged in destroying working class democratic rights for the benefits of capitalist restoration? Comments from [Lynch] and other comrades clearly imply that the LRCI does not exclude the possibility of entering into united fronts from above with the Yeltsinites and the nationalists. We ask you please to elaborate on what you mean by this.

On the other hand, we do not at all oppose the idea of a united front from below, with workers who have illusions in Yeltsin, Landsbergis and company, against those gentlemen (and the Stalinists) in defense of the economic and democratic rights of the working class. Precisely for these reasons, we stand together with Trotsky in counterposing workers’ democracy to bourgeois democracy. (ASee the comments we sent with the amendments to the USSR resolution). (June 10, 1991)

In the same letter we also outlined our sharp and clear disagreements on Yugoslavia. Finally, on July 10, over four months after we had sent our amendments to “The USSR at the Crossroads”, the IS sent us a response (to which the RTT responded on September 23). By then, the differences were very sharp. In the next month, the coup took place. The positions of the two camps were clear months in advance. But comrade Frankel has forgotten all this. In the new letter (November 14) he complains:

We sent you the drafts of both our resolutions on the Soviet Coup, of the 22 and 30 August, at the same time as we were discussing them, i.e. before publication as part of the privileged access you have to our internal life as a fraternal group…We received no criticism from you on these resolutions. Not until late September did we receive the draft articles for your journal…” (Nov. 14 letter)

No criticism? The IS’s position on the coup was laid out already in March, and our criticism on what should the workers do in case of a coup was also laid out in March. Immediately after we received the draft of Aug. 22, the coup was over. The Aug. 22 draft was written as if the coup were winning. We did not respond because we knew that the draft was totally out of sync with events and that a new draft would be forthcoming. But comrade Frankel again does not tell the truth. The second (Aug. 30) resolution that we received was not a draft, but an adopted resolution to be published. Comrade Frankel does not tell the truth also about the date that the IS received the text of IT #4. It was in London in electronic form by the middle of September (Sept. 19), not late September. (We keep an exact log of all our electronic mail messages).

Unfortunately comrade Frankel manages to bring so many falsehoods and distortions into a few sentences that we must apologize to the reader. We are sorry that we have had to spend this many pages to show the truth about the history of fraternal relations. There are still many more distortions, and we cannot deal with all of them; the reader should draw his/her own conclusions about the objective way that comrade Frankel presents matters.

In the RTT resolution on fraternal relations (adopted October 27, 1991), we accepted that we made a mistake in not discussion with the LRCI before publishing IT #4. What more does comrade Frankel want us to do, crawl on all fours? During the summer, comrade Winter was unable to function as the RTT’s full-timer for pressing personal reasons. When the fall came, the RTT felt that we needed a paper right away to re-activate our local activities. We did not have any experience regarding what to do in the case of sharp differences with the LRCI. It was the first time. We thought that the LLRCI did not want to have public polemics, so we did not mention their name directly. Thinking in retrospect, we were wrong. But we also knew that by August the differences were very sharp, and it was not likely that they would be narrowed before IT #4 came out. It was the IS that did not communicate with us about the differences for over four months. The IS is right that we should at least have published alongside the resolution on the USSR a response from the LRCI. But what did the IS do about it? They knew about the differences. Nevertheless, the RTT did not receive during the summer or in September a single phone call or other communication from a member of the IS that asked to discuss our positions and clarify the differences. The IS had the text of IT #4 for a week before it went to press, and did not contact the RTT during that time to request that we delay publication.

In his attempt to further discredit the RTT, comrade Frankel complains that it took the RTT until November (or late October) to publish the supplement to IT #4 with the LRCI’s account of the differences. But what does he want? We produced the supplement only a few days after we received the IS’s final draft. During the months of September and October, we loyally sold Workers Power and TI with the LRCI’s statements and positions on the coup. The RTT has followed to the letter the resolution on fraternal relations adopted by the IS when Winter was in London in October 1991, and we have accepted responsibility for our mistakes.

Two things have brought the IS to the brink of hysteria, that is, to the brink of breaking off all relations with the RTT. These are not the differences over Stalinism, but “organizational” matters; First, our criticism on democratic centralism (which deserves a whole chapter by itself), and second, our criticism that Workers Power did not publish our position on the coup alongside the LRCI’s account of the differences.

The explanation for the latter is that Workers Power did not have room. But neither did IT. IT #4 was already out; nevertheless, a group of six comrades, less than a tenth of the size of Workers Power, made a special supplement and democratically put in both accounts of the coup, the LRCI’s and the RTT’s. Comrade Frankel says that the statement in Workers Power was an objective statement representing both sides. How could it be? After it was clear that the differences were too deep for a joint statement that reconciled both positions, comrade Winter told the comrades from the IS that he would write his own statement representing the position of the RTT. Nobody objected. The RTT, after that, was not invited to work together with the IS on a joint draft, it was just asked to comment on the LRCI’s account of the differences and it did that. We do not think that the IS’s statement in Workers Power distorts our positions. But neither do we think that the reader can clearly follow the logic behind our positions from what was published in Workers Power. That was the essence of our criticism. But comrade Frankel nevertheless says that: “The statement does not have all the ins and outs of your position but it certainly does not have ours either.” (pager 2 in the IS’s Nov 14 letter).

The English reader knows the ‘ins and outs’ of the LRCI’s position from TI and Workers Power papers since the coup. But he/she has never read the RTT’s position. On the other hand, the RTT has been selling TI and Workers Power on the coup and the American reader is familiar with the ‘ins and outs’ of the LRCI’s position. Got it? As to the fact that our statement would be published in Trotskyist International, we have already had our experiences with this. Last time we waited four months before our letter on Lithuania was published. We do not think that it was correct to wait that long again for such an important political matter.

The real reason why the IS did not publish our positions comes out later on, when comrade Frankel writes:

We had to say something about public differences on an important question and WP had to arm its members. Most had not seen the RTT’s journal since there were not enough copies brought for sale to our members, though comrade Winter sold copies to some Spartacists outside a WP meeting in central London (Nov. 14 letter)

We have to ask the reader to excuse us once again. First we have to deal with the false information in the second sentence. TIB #43 (dated October 1991) reprinted the article from the IT #4 about the Soviet Union (which the IS had had in electronic form since Sept. 19(, as well as our criticism of the LRCI’s position. IIB #43 was in the hands before Winter left for London right around that time), that is, about two weeks before the issue of Workers Power was published which contained the IS account of the differences. So, why does comrade Frankel say that “most had not seen the RTT’s journal since there were not enough copies brought for sale to our members.” What is comrade Frankel talking about? Also, comrade Winter did not sell copies of IT #4 to any Spartacists outside a WP meeting or anywhere else. Comrade Astrid did sell one copy to a Spartacist in a pub, after she had been nagged to sell it for a long time. But the Spartacists knew about our differences before from IT #4 that was sold in the US; that was why the IS complained to Winter that the Spartacists would approach members of Workers Power before he even came to London.

It is curious how comrade Frankel tries to associate the Spartacist League with the RTT in the mind of the rank-and-file. He hints that Winter was more interested in selling IT #4 to his fellow sectarians than to Workers Power’s own members. The bottom line, however, is that the IS does not have confidence that the rank-and-file can defend the line. The rank-and-file, on the other hand, has increasing doubts and questions on the political line and method of the leadership. That is why the petty bourgeois leadership is so hysterical and determined to shield the rank-and-file from the Marxists; and that is why comrade Frankel wrote this letter, full of falsifications and half-truths in the centrist tradition. Unlike the petty bourgeois leaders who twist and hide the real social and political reality – Marxists say what is.

Once again on the National Question

In the November 14 letter, comrade Frankel does not say a lot about political questions. But he raises one curious point when he quotes an amendment on the national question in Lithuania supposedly offered by comrade Winter at the May 1990 IEC (page 4 of letter). Comrade Winter does not remember writing the amendment, nor does he recall if it was accepted (can comrade Frankel help on that?). The amendment was probably made in response to comrade SK of the IS, who insisted at the meeting that the support for Lithuania’s declaration of independence must be unconditional. The amendment clarifies what Marxists should support unconditionally, which is the right of oppressed nationalities to throw off the Stalinist yoke, that is, only the progressive elements in the struggle for independence. This has always been Winter and the RTT’s position. The amendment made it clear that the overall support for national movements for independence is conditional, that is, revolutionaries should not support a capitalist Lithuania, and should fight only for a workers state in Lithuania. That is what the RTT said in International Trotskyist, that is, what Trotsky said on the Ukraine. (see Trotsky’s Writings, 1938-39, pp 304-5)

Lenin said many times that the overall support for the national struggle is conditional and that the proletariat should support what is progressive in the national struggle unconditionally (e.g., The struggle against imperialism). (see Lenin’s Collected Works, vol. 23, pp 56-7, as quoted in RTT letter to LRCI, Sept. 30, 1991, p. 20 (IIB #43 pagination). There is nothing new here, and if the IS agrees with it, we are perhaps making a step forward in narrowing the differences.

But unfortunately, when we set aside general statements and deal with the concrete, we see that our differences are sharp. A centrist will always sweat to the most orthodox statements only to discard them the next day. Thus, when the bourgeois nationalists in Lithuania were defending the bourgeois parliament to use it to restore capitalism, that is, when nationalism was being used as a reactionary tool in the hands of the restorationists, the IS rushed to form a united front (popular front, more accurately) with the restorationists. Today the Lithuanian parliament is putting all the nationalized industries up for auction on the market; the restoration of capitalism is at an advanced stage. The same reactionary nationalist parliament also supports the oppression of minorities and the rehabilitation of fascists. Thus, Sam from the Tendency is probably right that the RTT was not sharp enough in its statement that nationalism is linked to capitalist restoration. Nationalism is the tool with which the restorationists are building new bourgeois states. The developments in the USSR are open to any intelligent person to see. One does not have to be a Marxist to see basic facts.

The problem with the petty bourgeois leadership of the LRCI is that is stats with the subjective factor, that is, the illusions of the masses in nationalism, and not with the objective reality. If the nationalists win mass support in referendums, the LRCI gives them unconditional support in the struggle for independence, regardless of their overall reactionary political and economic goals. This is exactly how the LRCI supported the nationalists in Slovenia and Croatia. The masses said yes in referendums and that was enough to support them against the Stalinists, even though the nationalists’ aims were the destruction of the workers’ state and the linkage of the new capitalist states to imperialism. Of course the IS is very upset when the RTT tells the truth, i.e., that the leadership of the LRCI no longer stands for the defense of the workers’ state.

Trotsky, on the other hand, rejected referendums made by restorationists. In the article on the Ukrainian Question he wrote:

…only hopeless pacifist blockheads are capable of thinking that the emancipation and unification of the Ukraine can be achieved by peaceful diplomatic means, by referendums, by decisions of the League of Nations, etc. In no way superior to them of course are those ‘nationalists’ who propose to solve the Ukrainian question by entering the service of one imperialism against another…The program of independence for the Ukraine in the epoch of imperialism is directly and indissolubly bound up with the program of the proletarian revolution. It would be criminal to entertain any illusions on this score. (Trotsky’s Writings, 193809, pp 304-5, our emphasis).

Nearly all of this could apply to the leaders of the LRCI, who not only supported the reactionary decisions of the referendums, but also called on imperialism to break a blockade by a workers’ state by assisting and recognizing the reactionary restorationist government of Lithuania.

As a consequence of their petty bourgeois method, Workers Power supported Croatia in the Civil War in Yugoslavia. The masses support an independent Croatia, you see, and therefore Workers Power had to take the side of “independent” Croatia against the bureaucracy in Serbia, even thogh the nationalists’ goal was the massacre and domination of the Serbian minorities. When comrade Winter and Astrid were in London, they ruthlessly criticized the leadership. The rank-and-file and even some people in the NC were already asking questions and criticizing this position. As a result, the leadership decided to back off from their support of Croatia. It wrote a retraction in Workers Power, but in so doing, it refused to accept that it had made a mistake; it simply pointed out that:

It was brought to our attention that a passage in the article on Yugoslavia in Workers Power 147 which referred to the Croatians’ ‘right to resist the Serbian backed attempt to keep them in the federation by force’ could have been interpreted as arguing support for Croatia. This was not the intention of the article. (Workers Power, Nov. 1991, p 7) Then the correction argues that the LRCI always stood for defeatism of both sides. Who is the correction trying to fool? Let us quote the full position from Workers Power, of which the correction only uses the convenient part:

But the question of defending national rights means that not all combat should be condemned. The Croatian Republic has every right to defend itself militarily against Serbian or Federal aggression. Equally the Serbs in Croatia who have been denied the right to separation have the right to defend themselves from the Croatian attacks which have occurred in recent months. (Workers Power, September, 1991, p 11, our emphasis)

Thus Workers Power generally took the side of the Croatian Republic in the civil war. In the case of Serbia it defends oppressed minorities when they are under attack, something that Marxists should do anyway as a general principle, regardless if they take a side or not.

Despite our sharp criticism, we welcome the change of position. But we are worried that a leadership which refuses to admit that it made a mistake (if the leadership has made an internal criticism, the RTT does not know about it) will not change its method. We are worried that it is not willing to look at the method that led to its wrong opportunist position. We repeat, the method is a simple centrist method: whenever the majority of the people support independence, the LRCI supports the “struggle for independence”, even when it is led by semi-fascists in the struggle for capitalist restoration (Croatia). When Winter was in London he heard the arguments again and again: how can we not support and call for a united front with the Croatian government when it is supported by the masses? How can we just support a phantom workers’ militia when it does not exist? The comrades from the ASt went so far as to sell their paper at right-wing Croatian demonstrations in Austria which called on imperialism to intervene on behalf of Croatia!!!!

So we are back to square one. When we discuss the national question, it boils down to a united front with reactionary forces, who are in the process of destroying the gains of the working class and the toiling masses. That has been the discussion between the RTT and the LRCI in each case: Khomeini and the semi-fascist Pasdaran; the Bonapartist dictator Yeltsin; the reactionary nationalists in Lithuania, and the semi-fascists in Croatia. The discussion between us is about the difference between a popular front and a united front. We have barely started it. We ask every member of the LRCI not to allow the leadership to break fraternal relations. This is the most important discussion that the LRCI has held – a discussion that delimits Marxism from centrism. (“A centrist swears readily by the policy of the united front, emptying it of its revolutionary content and transforming it from a tactical method into a supreme principle.” Trotsky, Writings, 1933-4, p 234). We are sure that recent events in the USSR and everywhere else are proving the correctness of the RTT’s position. We demand: open up the democratic process, do not close it off.

The class character of the LRCI’s leadership – petty bourgeois

In every serious factional struggle, each camp represents the interests of a class. This is one of the main lessons that we learn from Trotsky’s “In Defense of Marxism”. The present case is no different from any other. When it comes to the class character of the RTT’s politics, the eclectic leadership of the LRCI is totally confused, and cannot even consistently define the nature of the differences. In its public statement on the relations between the RTT and the LRCI, the leadership says:

Given the serious and principled character of these differences the LRCI and the RTT have decided to extend fraternal relations for a limited period with the object of resolving these if possible. (Workers Power, Nov. 1991, p 13)

In other words, the differences are principled. If they are not resolved within a certain period of time (internally, the RTT was given six months), the two organisations should break off relations. That is the public position of the LRCI. (It is rendered inconsistent, however, by the characterization of the differences, at the beginning of the very same statement, as “serious tactical differences”! (Workers Power, Nov. 1991, p 13)

In the November 14 letter however, the leadership has taken a radically different position. Comrade Frankel has announced that unless the RTT declares that the differences are tactical, joins the LRCI and obeys democratic centralism, the IS is “likely” to recommend the end of fraternal relations even before the Congress. To the world, the differences are principled, but internally, the RTT is requested to announce that the differences are tactical or get kicked out. His is a class eclectic and inconsistent petty bourgeois leadership, which cannot define the nature of the differences or that class character of the opposition.

In the sphere of politics, the leadership is not much better. It has never tried seriously to pose the question, which class to the politics of the opposition represent? But we always hear the same stories: that the RTT is sectarian and has the politics of the Third Period (see the July 10, 1991 letter to the RTT from the IS, for example). Trotsky said many times that when a centrist accuses a Marxist of sectarianism, it is a compliment.

Comrade Frankel protests that the RTT does not say whether the nature of the differences is tactical or principled. The RTT, however, maintains that the nature of the differences became principled as soon as the LRCI crossed the class line and supported Yeltsin at one of the most important moments in modern history. Marxists, who use the dialectical method, are consistent. In the letter that the RTT wrote to the LRCI on September 30, 1991 (before Winter came to London), we said:

The IS today has similar petty bourgeois prejudices [as the opposition of the SWP in 1940]. We are simply terrified. Shachtman at least claimed to be neutral (that is a ‘third’ camp). The IS is choosing the camp of Imperialism and Yeltsin simply because Yeltsin deludes some workers with the promises of ‘democracy’…

The comrades from the IS are capitulating today to the same alien class forces pressures and prejudice that the petty bourgeois opposition did in 1940. We ask you to reconsider your positions before it is too late. (Letter to LRCI, Sept. 30, 1991, p 17, IIB #43 pagination)

We were consistent then and now. Comrade Frankel, who now asksus questions to see whether the answers can be used to break fraternal relations, received his answer two months ago, before Winter arrived in London. Then, nobody had the thought that the answer could be used to get rid of the RTT. What has changed? The politics of both camps remain the same. But the petty bourgeois, who does not know how to deal with powerful arguments of the Marxists, considers the whip. We will deal with that more in connection with the organisational question. For now, let us go back to the politics.

The source of the petty bourgeois character of the leadership is Tony Cliff and company. The original founders of Workers Power and the LRCI have never gotten out of the Cliffite camp with both feet. Sometimes they have had an entire foot left in the Cliffite camp, and sometimes only a toe; that depends on the leadership’s zigzags between centrism and revolutionary Marxism. At the time that the RTT established fraternal relations, the LRCI had only a toe in the Cliffite camp. The LRCI had come out with a basically revolutionary program (Trotskyist Manifesto). The RTT was hoping that it could get the LRCI to take both feet out altogether, but unfortunately, today the LRCI is back with a full foot in Tony Cliff’s camp. We call on the rank-and-file membership of the LRCI to return the organization to its revolutionary track once again!

The pressure to which the SWP (Britain) and the LRCI both give in is similar. It is what is popular at the time. While both capitulate to the same alien class pressures (the “progressive” petty bourgeoisie), the leadership of the LRCI is always capable of showing a better left and orthodox face. Thus, when the Iranian Revolution was popular, and most of the Left capitulated to Khomeini, the popular figure of the revolution, Workers Power, to be sure, never openly supported Khomeini like the SWP. It denounced him in every possible way. But it did call for a united front with Khomeini at the crucial moment, when Khomeini was destroying the gains of the revolution.

In this respect, Workers Power has created a very sophisticated left centrism, one that sounds very revolutionary to the inexperienced ear. This kind of centrism, to be sure is not new. Those comrades who are shocked by the RTT’s sharp criticism should be reminded that it was Trotsky who said that Marxists must display the most “critical intransigence with regard to the most ‘left’ offshoots of centrism.” Trotsky concluded that the duty of Marxists is “to help them [left centrists] develop toward Marxism; not to be frightened by their caprices, threats, ultimatums (centrists are always capricious and touchy); not to make any concessions to them in principle;…And once more, not to fear to state what is.”

On the question of the USSR, the leadership has also broken only half way from state capitalism. Several years after Workers Power broke with the International Socialists (Cliff), the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Workers Power’s initial reaction was to condemn the invasion as a counter-revolutionary act. Later, when the Soviet Army was engaged in the war against the reactionary Mujahedin, Workers Power supported the Soviet Army and called for a united front with it against the reactionary Muslim forces. Workers Power did not support the Soviet Army from the beginning because of its leaders’ sensitivity to petty bourgeois public opinion. It is the same Stalinophobia as that of Tony Cliff. When the class questions and alliances became clear, Workers Power made a huge step forward from its Cliffite past and took the correct side. When Winter was in London in April 1990, he carried on a lengthy discussion on Afghanistan. He did not convince the LRCI that its initial position was wrong, or that it contradicted the later position. Both sides agreed, however, that because at the crucial time (when the Soviet Army was fighting the agents of imperialism) both the LRCI and RTT were on the same side of the barricades, the differences were not principled. This document is not a place to start a polemic and explain at length the contradictions in the LRCI’s positions. But the differences were significant enough to appear in International Trotskyist #1 as part of the joint declaration on the differences on Stalinism that had to be resolved, together with the differences on Lithuania.

Unfortunately, it is the 10% that was wrong in Workers Power’s position, its unwillingness to stand against the petty bourgeois public hatred of Stalinism, that still haunts the leaders of the LRCI today. It is that part that today is shaping their capitulation to “democratic” public opinion in the case of Yeltsin and the “democratic” restorationists.

In theory the leadership has clearly broken from the conception of state capitalism. It has written excellent articles against it. But in practice? Not really. They did not fully break with its conclusions. What is at the political heart of state capitalism and Cliffism? That since the defence of the workers’ state is not part of the revolutionary position (because the Soviet Union is a capitalist state), bourgeois democracy is progressive and should be defended against the tyrant bureaucracy. In theory, the LRCI has rejected the first part of Cliff’s theory (no defense of the USSR), while in practice idt has accepted both parts (it rejects the defense of the USSR and accepts bourgeois democracy). Isn’t that why the leadership is so upset when the RTT reminds it that it is abandoning some of the most important parts of the Trotskyist Manifesto (the defense of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the workers’ state) in favour of bourgeois democracy? What is that, if not the classic Cliffite position dressed up with orthodoxy?

Today public opinion is running wild in favour of “democracy” in the Soviet Union. It runs from the gutter press to the “progressive” intelligentsia and the standard centrist organizations. All of them reject the dictatorship of the proletariat and support some sort of parliamentary system. The more radical segments of this grand coalition (the left intelligentsia) accept “workers democracy” and rights. It is this alien class pressure (the petty bourgeois left intelligentsia) to which the leadership of the LRCI is capitulating.

The leadership of the LRCI rejects the parliamentary system in the workers’ state in principle, but accepts it in practice, under the disguise of the “united front” against Stalinism. In its arguments against us it displays centrist confusion and oscillation, and not a firm Bolshevik clarity. Trotsky talked about this feature of centrism a long time ago. In his classic article “Centrism and the Fourth International” he wrote:

Under the pressure of circumstances, the eclectic centrist may accept even the most extreme conclusions only to retreat from them afterwards in practice. Having accepted the dictatorship of the proletariat he will leave a wide margin for opportunist interpretations…” (Trotsky, Writings, 1933-4, p 234).

It is the “wide margin for opportunist interpretations” that dominates the positions of the LRCI at the moment. Comrade Frankel spills the beans in the November 14 IS letter to the RTT:

The weakness and contradictory character of the TM formulation should be clear. To call as it does for the suppression of all parties openly in favour of the market (do you know a Soviet party which is not?), is in direct conflict to the very next sentence of the programme, “The workers not the bureaucracy must decide which parties are theirs.” If there are no parties how could they choose? (Nov. 14 letter)

‘The workers not the bureaucracy must decide which parties are theirs’ supposedly comes from the 1938 Transitional Program, in the part on Soviet democracy. Comrade Frankel is repeating here the arguments that he raised with Winter and Astrid in London. Here, as then, he pretends that Trotsky in the Transitional Program and The Revolution Betrayed supported the rights of bourgeois restorationist parties to be in the Soviets as long as they have some support within the working class. This is a mockery of Trotsky’s positions and the principles of the Fourth International. For decades revolutionaries understood that Soviet parties should include only parties which support the workers’ state and do not advocate the overthrow of the workers’ state. The RTT cannot allow such a revision of the fundamental theory of the “old man” to be unanswered. Here we quote the full position of Trotsky on the subject:

Bureaucratic autocracy must give place to Soviet democracy. A restoration of the right of criticism and a genuine freedom of elections, are necessary conditions for the further development of the country. This assumes a revival of freedom of Soviet parties, beginning with the party of Bolsheviks, and a resurrection of the trade unions. The bringing of democracy into industry means a radical revision of plans in the interests of the toilers. (The Revolution Betrayed, p 289, our emphasis)

For 40 years, Trotskyists have understood that Trotsky meant here that Soviet democracy is only for parties that do not want to overthrow the planned economy. Openly bourgeois parties who proclaim that their program is the overthrow of the workers’ state do not have a place in Soviet democracy. Comrade Frankel must be kidding if he seriously argues that openly restorationist parties will be involved in “[t]he brings of democracy into industry” which “means a radical revision of plans in the interests of the toilers”. It does not even occur to him that Soviet democracy is part of the dictatorship of the proletariat. If Trotsky heard that he is supposed to have suggested that the parties of Yeltsin and Walesa should have full rights under Soviet democracy he would probably turn over in his grave in anger.

Here is how Trotsky summarizes the dictatorship of the proletariat:

The proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. In itself the necessity for state power arises from an insufficient cultural level of the masses and their heterogeneity. In the revolutionary vanguard, organized in a party, is crystallized the aspiration of the masses to obtain their freedom. Without the class’s confidence in the vanguard, there can be no talk of the conquest of power. In this sense the proletarian revolution and dictatorship are the work of the whole class…The soviets are only the organized form of the tie between the vanguard and the class. (‘Stalinism and Bolshevism’, Trotsky, Writings, 1936-7 p 426, our emphasis)

Thus: “[t]he Soviets are only the organized form of the tie between the vanguard and the class”. Which class, may we ask comrade Frankel? It is clearly the working class, with representatives of other classes (peasantry) that support the dictatorship of the proletariat. But comrade Frankel apparently thinks that the Soviets should also represent a few irreconcilably hostile classes. Maybe we misunderstand the leadership’s position. Perhaps they mean that the Soviets should represent only the interests of the proletariat, but the Soviets should live alongside bourgeois parliaments that represent the interests of the old classes? We eagerly await the answers of the leadership.

We hope that by now it is clear why the RTT defends without comprise the Trotskyist Manifesto against the attempt to revise its principles (i.e., the attempt by the leadership to defend the rights of openly restorationist parties). It all boils down to the fact that the leadership sneaks into the LRCI the pressure of the petty bourgeoisie, which, to be sure, has capitulated to the pressure of the big bourgeoisie, which to be sure, has capitulated to the pressure of the big bourgeoisie (imperialism). We have not forgotten: it was the petty bourgeois intelligentsia East and West that sang songs of love to the “democratic” restorationist, maximizing the “democracy” while minimizing the restorationist content. It is this alien class pressure that drove the leadership of the LRCI to revise the fundamental Marxist principle – the dictatorship of the proletariat – and to abandon the defense of the workers’ state in the most crucial moment, when the restorationists were fighting to take state power.

The following incredible statement by the PC of Workers Power summarizes the support of bourgeois democracy in the workers’ state by the leadership.

Working class resistance is made easier by the fact that bourgeois parliaments are not quite the same in a workers’ state as they are in a bourgeois capitalist society. In a workers’ state they do not rest upon a capitalist class and its armed power; tied to both by a thousand threads and to the economic power of the bourgeoisie. The existence of parliaments is more a statement of intent, a declaration by the pro-bourgeois forces that they are going to set out on the road to a capitalist society. But there a class struggle lies in the path of bourgeois democratic institutions and their use to effect a restoration. (Workers Power PC’s “Reply to Sam” IB 162, p 6, our emphasis)

The existence of parliaments is a “statement of intent”!? Really? The parliament in Russia supports Yeltsin and has already destroyed most (if not all) of the planned economy mechanisms in Russia. It has abolished elections until the Big Bang program for restoration is completed, and it has given Yeltsin almost complete dictatorial power. Similar things are happening in the other republics. And the leadership is telling us “there a class struggle lies in the path of bourgeois democratic institutions”. The reasons for the united front with Yeltsin cannot be expressed better. Yeltsin and the bourgeois democratic institutions, according to the leadership, could facilitate the class struggle, that is, the ability of the workers to organize, etc.

Comrades of the leadership: Precisely because the exact opposite is taking place, it is crucial that we continue the discussion. You have given in to the worst platitudes of bourgeois democracy, and in the process have given up the unconditional defense of the USSR. The result of your support for a popular front with Yeltsin, under the guise that he defended “democracy”, has been exposed. Every member of the LRCI who does not want to stay blind can see it. Your support for a “united front with the democratic marketers” was not only wrong, but the terminology itself was wrong. The marketers were never democratic. Gavril Popov and Anatoly Sobchak are today parading the ‘heir’ of the tzar and supporting the dictatorial decrees of Yeltsin, without hesitating to add a few decrees of their own. Don’t you see that in the last analysis you capitulated to the pressure of “democratic” imperialism, which today supports the undemocratic parliaments as they proceed with the destruction of the workers’ state?  Either you will rethink and change your methodology, or the LRLCI will become an auxiliary of bourgeois democracy, that is, a finished centrist organization of the calibre of Ernest Mandel and company.

In this sphere it is interesting to note some of the similarities between the analysis of the SWP (Britain) and the LRCI’s leaders. Like the LRCI, the SWP maintains that Yeltsin was a Kerensky during the August coup. Like the LRCI, the SWP capitulated to the same democratic illusions in Yeltsin. Today, even a blind person can see that Yeltsin was closer to Kornilov than Kerensky. We say one more time: it is time for the baby to break the umbilical cord – the LRCI must break from the residue of the SWP’s politics.

It is sad that the leadership, which does not want to learn from its errors, zigzags from one theoretical mistake to another. When Winter was in London, the IS maintained that there was still dual power between the bureaucracy and Yeltsin. The leadership wanted to exploit the positive of both worlds. On the one hand, the leaders needed to prove to themselves that the USSR is still a degenerated workers’ state because the bureaucracy is still in power (although weak and discredited) – that is, that Yeltsin has not brought the workers’ state to the eve of destruction. On the other hand, they maintain the illusion that the political revolution is possible via the opening of bourgeois democracy that can exist nicely in a workers’ state. Thus, Yeltsin (with bourgeois democracy) in power allows a wide margin for the political revolution. All these, however, are grand illusions. The RTT’s position that the workers’ state has collapsed and that dual power has been shattered is proven on a daily basis by harsh reality. We ask the leadership: is there still dual power?  How is it expressed? How is bourgeois democracy helping the class struggle in the USSR today? We hope that an open and honest discussion of these questions could open the way to a narrowing of the differences.

Democratic Centralism vs Bureaucratic Centralism

The organizational forms should correspond to the strategy and the tactic. Only a correct policy can guarantee a healthy party regime.  (Trotsky, Writings 1937-8, p 90)

Apparently, the thing that provoked the greatest rage from the IS against the RTT was our criticism on democratic centralism. Comrade Frankel’s November 14 letter was in part a response to an RTT resolution which stated:

The leadership of the LRCI did not act within the Leninist norms of democratic centralism when it came out in support of the open restorationists organizing in the USSR and when the IS called for a united front with open restorationist forces.

The Congress of the LRCI is its highest body, which means in a democratic centralist organization that no leadership body of the LRCI can publish a programmatic position that contradicts the program adopted by the last congress of the LRCI. Nevertheless, the International Secretariat and possibly other leadership bodies have issued programmatic statements that support the rights of open restorationist forces in the workers’ states. These programmatic statements stand in total contradiction to the program of the Trotskyist Manifesto, which calls for the banning of open restorationist forces. The RTT believes that the call for a united front with Yeltsin also contradicts the program of the Trotskyist Manifesto, since an organization that wants to ban the rights of the open restorationists cannot call for a united front with those forces.

By issuing statements which contradict the program adopted by the highest body of the LRCI, the leadership of the LRCI has violated the democratic content of the democratic centralist structure to which the LRCI adheres. A responsible leadership should have not done so. If the leadership thought that the programmatic position of the Trotskyist Manifesto was wrong and it was necessary to change it, it was obligated to convene an Emergency Congress of the LRCI to change the program before issuing statements that contradict the program. If convening such an Emergency Congress was too difficult, the LRCI leadership at least should have established mechanisms that could substitute for an Emergency Congress. Such a mechanism could have been, for example, special meetings of all the sections to decide the issue democratically. (RTT resolution on fraternal relations, adopted October 27, 1991)

This resolution did not intend to point a finger at the LRCI leadership, but to draw a lesson for the future. We wanted to point out that a decisive point of the program such as “the dictatorship of the proletariat” cannot be changed without a special congress of the LRCI, or without at least convening a special meeting of each section. We thought that at best we would get an explanation why it was not possible to do the above, but instead we received an attack on the concept of democratic centralism.

In his attack on the RTT argument that only the world congress can change the program, comrade Frankel writes:

This is simply not true. You will not find such an absurd statement in our or any previous communist organisation’s statutes. (Nov. 14 letter)

Our arguments are such ABC that it is simply amusing to hear such counter-arguments from a long time Communist. Here we are forced to refresh comrade Frankel’s memory once again. Point 4 of the Statutes of the Communist International, adopted on 4 August, 1920, and drafted by Lenin, stated:

The supreme body of the Communist International is the World Congress attended by all parties and organizations adhering to the International. The World Congress meets once a year as a rule. The World Congress alone has the right to alter the programme of the Communist International. The World Congress discusses and takes decisions on the most important programmatic and tactical questions connected with the activity of the Communist International. (Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, p 125, our emphasis)

This is such ABC, we simply don’t know what to say. To the best of our knowledge even the most degenerate fragments of the Trotskyist movement do not formally hold the IS’s conception of democratic centralism. Some of the comrades in the RTT were in the IWP, a Morenoist organization. In our struggle with this brand of centrism we encountered many bureaucratic manoeuvres, but no one said that the leadership could alter the program of the World Congress. The fact that the program can be changed only by the Congress is a holy cow in the Morenoist tradition.

Unfortunately for comrade Frankel, he does not know when to stop. He gives the following definition of democratic centralism:

Proletarian combat organisations are not run by documents no matter how authoritative they are. The Bolsheviks would have been unable to make the 1917 revolution if they had stuck to their current programme. Leading bodies short of congresses have to do what is best for the organisation and hold themselves answerable to the next congress. Between Congresses the IEC is the leading body of the LRCI, and between IEC’s the IS is. The programme is in their keeping for defence, interpretation and in emergencies for alteration. These bodies have a duty to do all these three and when they do so their decisions are binding on the sections, who elected them at a congress. This is democratic centralism. (Nov. 14 letter)

Thus, it all boils down to the right of the leadership to do whatever it feels fit to do with the fundamental Communist Program (we did not forget the dictatorship of the proletariat) in between congresses. If the members do not like it, they should replace the leadership at the congress. His is bureaucratic centralism, not democratic centralism. This conception of democratic centralism has nothing in common with the Leninist conception.

Lenin’s method for changing the program…

Comrade Frankel, however, decided to drag Lenin and the1917 revolution into the dispute. We don’t really know why. We have to apologize to the reader once again, with the hope that she/he will bear with us, as we  re-construct the ABC of the 1917  revolution, or, more specifically, what happened when Lenin arrived in April.

Comrade Frankel is right on one point: that the April theses represented a change in the Bolshevik program. Ironically, the change was “the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin proposed that it should replace the old, rather stagist formula of the “Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry – which was, by the way, better than the LRCI leadership’s new program of bourgeois democracy in a workers’ state. Thus, Lenin proposed a revolutionary program, a step forward; the IS is proposing a reactionary program for a workers’ state, a step backward.

Lenin did not propose to change the program through the leadership alone, without convening the entire Bolshevik party, even though the Bolshevik party was in the middle of a revolution and was becoming a mass revolutionary workers’ party (unlike the LRCI which is a propaganda group).  Lenin did not wait until he convinced the ‘old Bolsheviks’ from the Central Committee. He understood that the interests of the revolution were more important than the centralist part of democratic centralism. He took the April Theses over the heads of the leaders, directly to the masses. He was ready to resign and start a new party, unless the theses were adopted. He demanded and brought about the assembly of the party, not just the leaders. In a few weeks the support for Lenin’s theses changed from a minority of one to an overwhelming majority, This 3was achieved by a bloc between Lenin and the rank-and-file workers against the conservative leadership.

When Lenin came out with the April Theses, the programmatic change was decisive for the success of the revolution. It was so decisive that Lenin decided to take the polemic with the leaders to the masses and not only members of the party. Pravda and the ‘old Bolsheviks’ carried a public debate against Lenin and the theses:

As for the general scheme of Comrade Lenin, it seems to us unacceptable in that it starts from the assumption that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is ended, and counts upon an immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution. (Pravda, April 8, 1917, quoted in Trotsky, ‘History of the Russian Revolution’, volume 1, p 295)

And Trotsky commented:

Against the old Bolsheviks Lenin found support in another layer of the party, already tempered, but more fresh and more closely united with the masses. In the February revolution, as we know, the worker-Bolsheviks played the decisive role. They thought it self-evident that the class which had won the victory should seize the power. These same workers protested stormily against the course of Kamenev and Stalin, and the Vyborg district even threatened the ‘leaders’ with expulsion from the party…Almost everywhere there were left Bolsheviks accused of maximalism, even of anarchism. These worker-revolutionists only lacked the theoretical resources to defend their position. But they were ready to respond to the first clear call…

In this struggle with the indecisiveness of the staff and the broad officer layer of the party, Lenin confidently relied on its under-officer layer which better reflected the rank-and-file worker-Bolshevik. (ibid, ‘Rearming the Party’, volume 1, p 306)

We wish that the leaders of the IS would also have the courage, and confidence in their new program, to go directly to the rank-and-file when they change the Trotskyist Manifesto.

After Lenin won over the rank-and-file workers, he implemented the call for a congress which he had made in the April Theses (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 24, p 24)n and the Bolshevik Party was convened:

The struggle for the re-arming of the Bolshevik ranks begun on the evening of April 2 was essentially finished by the end of the month. The party conference, which met in Petrograd April 24-29, cast the balance of March, a month of opportunist vacillations, and of April, a month of sharp crisis. By that time the party had grown greatly, both quantitatively and in a political sense. The 149 delegates represented 79,000 party members… (ibid, p 307)

…and the IS method for changing the program

Comrade Frankel tells us that “since we are having a congress only four months afterward this hardly seemed to us a burning necessity since not a single individual, leader or member, let alone section, objected to the ‘change of line’”. (Nov 14 letter) To this comrade Frankel adds his most powerful argument:

The IEC or the IS does not of course lightly pass resolutions which contradict a demand or a formulation in our programme, but neither would we inflict damage on the League by persisting in a wrong tactical course or suffer the paralysis that would result if we had to call a congress to change such a position in the heat of battle as it were. We are answerable post facto of course. (ibid)

Comrade Frankel’s position is incorrect for at least three reasons. First, it is not true that no one “objected to the change of line”. The Peruvian section sent a fax to the IS saying that it was incorrect to defend the rights of open restorationist parties in the workers’ state. Fabio from the German section (who claims that he has the support of the Berlin branch) also wrote to the IS that its positions on Yugoslavia contradict the defence of the workers’ state. Workers’ Power (NZ) wrote that the RTT is correct in its argument that we must counterpose workers’ democracy to bourgeois democracy. And finally, there is a growing Tendency in Workers Power which we believe sympathizes with the RTT position that a united front with Yeltsin was a popular front.

Second, the LRCI was not “in the heat of battle” at the time of the change. The IS’s new position, defending the rights of openly restorationist parties and calling for a united front with Yeltsin, came out in March – five months before the coup, and at least nine months before the Congress. There was certainly enough time. Mind you, comrades, the RTT does not even insist on an emergency congress. But we do think that it was necessary, at least, to convene meetings of the sections in which the majority would decide if the program is wrong and has to be changed.

Finally, the danger of “damage [to] the league” which comrade Frankel evokes is entirely illusory, and moreover, even if the danger were real it would not justify the IS’s action. How many members or supporters, may we ask, did the LRCI have in the USSR at the time of the coup, such that their conduct could “inflict damage on the League by persisting in a wrong tactical course” if the program were not immediately changed without waiting for a congress? The answer is exactly one. In March, when the IS changed the LRCI’s position, when a united front with Yeltsin was not immediately on the agenda, the LRCI had zero members in the USSR (please correct us if we are wrong). Contrast this with Lenin, who insisted even in the middle of a revolution on convening a party conference to change the program – a conference not of a small propaganda group, but of a mass party that was actually engaged in organizing a revolution.

Comrades, for a propaganda group, which is not leading the workers in a revolutionary assault, and whose weapons are correct program and theory, the democratic content of democratic centralism is even more important than it is for a mass party. The LRCI did not have the forces to change the course of events in the Soviet Union. Its weapons were a correct program and method, which are crucial for the time when the LRCI does become a mass party. A mature and democratic leadership would not change the principles of its party’s program without extensive discussion within the sections. The overhead of democracy would eventually pay off greatly. To put it succinctly – a confident leadership, which convinced the rank-and-file after extensive discussion that the old program was wrong, would not have to worry about attacks from the Spartacists and the RIL.

We believe that comrade Frankel and the IS are sincerely angry with the RTT. But the real reason is not the RTT’s “wild” accusations. It is rather the growing difficulty that they have in defending their opportunist program. In their zeal to strike at the RTT and defend their political mistakes, they plunge into deeper mistakes; they revise another fundamental tenet of Marxism – democratic centralism. We don’t contend that this IS are conscious bureaucrats. We do have to be honest, however, and say that they are not interested in the widest discussion because they do not have confidence in their new program, that is, a program that rejects the dictatorship of the proletariat and the defense of the workers’ state. In his struggle for the program of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lenin went for the widest democratic discussion. In its struggle against the dictatorship of the proletariat, the LRCI leadership is hiding behind sterile centralism.

How to conduct discussion

We are very saddened by the method by which comrade Frankel conducts the discussion. He writes:

The draft [on the coup that later was amended and adopted by the RTT] presented at the extended IS meeting also, let it be said, referred to the ‘Trotskyist renegades’ who had joined the barricades. This, it was pointed out at the time, included one of our own comrades from the Austrian section! Clearly there are deep differences on this question. Differences that are growing deeper. (Nov 14 letter)

When comrade Winter wrote the draft, which was his own personal effort and had not been approved by the RTT, he did not know that a comrade from the LRCI had joined the barricades. He told the IS in London at the time (October 1991) that the reference to Trotskyist renegades was not directed at the LRCI but at groups such as the WRP (which sent people to the barricades) and others – groups that clearly have been centrist and opportunist on many principled questions for a long time; groups that are a finished centrist product. When the IS pointed out to Winter that the LRCI had a comrade at the barricades, he immediately withdrew the reference, and it did not appear in the RTT’s final resolution. The RTT has never considered the LRCI or any of its members to be Trotskyist renegades, and has never called them that. So why does comrade Frankel insist on bringing up this episode in a distorted form? There are only two possible answers. Either he is simply very angry, or he is trying to create a barrier between the RTT and the members of the LRCI. It is clear that if the RTT is an enemy of the LRCI and attacks it as a “Trotskyist renegade”, loyal and calm discussion on the questions in dispute is impossible. Such arguments against the RTT create psychological disloyalty and fake antagonism. The rank-and-file will not want to hear from an organisation that calls them “renegades”. We sincerely hope, therefore, that comrade Frankel simply lost his temper, and forgot what actually happened. The episode was as pure misunderstanding, and it should not be used factionally.

Comrade Frankel affixes the label “hostile political tendency” to the RTT because we criticized the leadership on democratic centralism. He accuses us of being a faction (the RTT has never denied that the political questions in dispute are of a principled nature). But on the basis that the RTT criticized the Is on democratic centralism, the IS now denies our right to discuss with the Tendency in Workers Power, or anyone else in the LRCI, except via the IIB (that is through the center). Comrade Frankel writes:

We have to say that in the light of your accusations we would not advise WP to extend any further such privileges [for the RTT to discuss with the Tendency] This is not because of any damage or problems this has caused, nor to seal off ‘our’ members from RTT influence…But we must in future insist that all relations between the RTT and the LRCI, its sections and its members go through the International Secretariat. For our sections’ members this will be a matter of discipline.  (Nov 14 letter, our emphasis)

What makes a Marxist a Marxist is his/her ability to see the social and political reality behind the formalities, and to understand them dialectically. So, we say openly that the reason members of the Tendency are under discipline not to discuss with the RTT is that the IS is incapable of stopping the influence of the Marxists with political arguments. When it comes to formalities, however, comrade Frankel and the IS have good points. The IS does not have an obligation to allow discussions between the RTT and the Tendency; the IS could ‘legally’, so to speak, break fraternal relations prior to the Congress and prevent the attendance of the RTT. We have no doubt that the comrades from the IS can find written and unwritten statutes and rules authorizing them to do that. We are only a fraternal group – not a section. We are aware that we do not have the same rights as a section. We have to remind the comrades, however, that the RTT has been totally loyal to the LRCI since the latest discussions in London and it has been fulfilling the agreement that was reached in London. We did publish a special supplement to IT with the IS’s account of the differences. We have been selling Workers Power and Trotskyist International, which include all the positions of the LRCI that are in dispute. In our recent (Nov. 15) debate with the BT beforehand, and as a result, neither group in the debate carried on a polemic with the LRCI, which would have been unfair without a representative of the LRCI present. (Comrades can get the tapes of this debate if they are interested). We made a special point at the debate to sell the LRCI’s literature with its point of view.

Why is the RTT being prevented from discussion with the Tendency? Why are members of the Tendency subject to discipline if they correspond or discuss on the phone with a member of the RTT?  For purely political reasons.  We received notice that we cannot discuss with the Tendency (or any other member of the LRCI) just at the time when the Tendency is considering (and to the best of our knowledge, adopting) the RTT’s position on the coup. To the best of our knowledge, since its inception, the Tendency has been growing quite rapidly. Since the IS is incapable of defending its deadly wrong positions, it is doing what it can to stop the RTT from influencing the political line of the Tendency. As a rule, a petty bourgeois that cannot defeat the Marxists with arguments uses statutes and formal rules to stop the discussion.

Trotsky said:

Only a correct policy and healthy internal administrative structure and procedure can prevent the conversion of temporary grouping into ossified factions.

The health of the regime depends to a great degree on the leadership of the party and its ability to lend a timely ear to the voice of its critics. A stubborn policy of asserting bureaucratic ‘prestige’ is destructive to the development of the proletarian organization and to the authority of the leadership as well. But goodwill on the part of the leadership alone is not enough. The opposition grouping is also responsible for the character of inner party relations. (Trotsky, Writings 1935-6, p 188, our emphasis)

The leadership is accusing the opposition of poisoning the discussion. Why is our crime so severe, to the extent that we can communicate with members of the LRCI only through the central office? According to comrade Frankel, we accused the leadership of not being democratic and we disagree on what is democratic centralism. We have patiently written in this letter pages of documented material to explain our views. But even if comrade Frankel is right, what should a mature leadership do? Certainly a mature leadership which is accused by the opposition of being undemocratic will not use formal rules to cut the opposition off from potential co-thinkers and the rest of the members. That would merely give substance to the opposition’s allegations. A leadership which has confidence in its political line would do the exact opposite. To show that the political line of the opposition is bankrupt or wrong, it would open the democratic doors even wider.

And this is all happening in the middle of a pre-congress discussion (which is the time that democracy should dominate), at the end of which the leadership plans to change a fundamental part of the program which the FTT defends.

Why does everything have to go through the central office? This is not the tradition of the Trotskyist movement in its healthy days.  In the middle of the most fiery factional struggle in the SWP (USA) in 1940, Trotsky wrote many personal/political letters to both the opposition and the majority, none of which went first through the central office. Cannon and the rest of the SWP’s leaders wrote many letters and held many informal discussions with comrades from both sides in the dispute – none of which had passed through the censorship of the central office.

The RTT has no objection, of course, to sending copies of all documents and correspondence to the central office at the same time that they are sent to their recipients, so that the leadership may be fully informed concerning our communications with LRCI members. We have nothing to hide. But we are told in comrade Frankel’s November 14 letter that if someone from the Tendency writes a direct letter to the RTT, he/she will be subject to disciplinary action! And it does not stop there; most recently, in a telephone call on November 29, 1991 with the IS’s staff person in London, Winter was told that the Tendency’s documents, even though they discuss positions on international questions which were taken by the IS for the LRCI as a whole, not questions limited to Workers Power alone, are now being considered internal Workers Power documents and as such will not even be disclosed to fraternal groups such as the RTT.  And these edicts come at a time when the political lines of the RTT and the Tendency are getting closer.

We do not think that the IS was always undemocratic. Before Winter left London in October 1991, the IS was very democratic in its relations with the RTT. The IS is becoming undemocratic only now, when it is becoming clear that it cannot win the struggle over the political differences and cannot stop the growing influence of the RTT.

The RTT does not have an unprincipled bloc with the Tendency. In fact, in the only correspondence between Winter and Sam, Winter criticized some of the Tendency’s positions. We agree with their most important and principle positions, but we do not always agree on the method by which they arrive at their positions. (see Winter’s Nov 3, 1991 letter to Sam). The RTT does not agree with the resolution from the Tendency meeting of Oct. 30, 1991. We want them to change the line as soon as possible. But the RTT cannot immediately write a letter outlining our criticism to the comrades of the Tendency. On the other hand, if we write a critique to the IIB, it may appear only a few days before the Congress. It took a month for the last IIB to appear. Now there is only a month left before the Congress.


Democratic Centralism and the LRCI Congress

Comrade Frankel does not hide that he would not like to see the RTT at the Congress if the RTT considers the differences to be serious and principled. After asking us if we consider the differences to be only tactical, he requests that we join the LRCI in the near future if this is the case. Then he writes:

We need some answers to these questions if the IS is to recommend to the congress the continuation of fraternal relations. It can only do so on the basis that they are likely to lead in the foreseeable future in the RTT joining the LRCI. Clearly this also has implications for your attendance at the congress.(Nov 14 letter, our emphasis)

Once again, from the point of view of formalities, guidelines and rules, the IS probably has the upper hand. We are only a fraternal group. From the logistical point of view, the RTT may not have the money to send someone even if we are allowed to participate. Moreover, due to the IS’s vacillations regarding our attendance, at this late date it may not be possible to for any of our comrades to make the necessary arrangements to attend. But from the political angle, we believe that the reasons we may be barred from participating are as we have already outlined. The IS knows that this is growing opposition to their opportunist positions and they want to bar the Marxists from influencing the growing doubts in the minds of the rank-and-file.

The IS says that the main reason that they may break fraternal relations and bar the RTT from participation in the Congress is the depth of our differences, but at the same time it demands that the RTT join the LRCI because the differences are ‘tactical’.  As we wrote earlier, the political reality is different. Publicly, the LRCI has stated that the character of the differences is “serious and principled” and that as a result, the fraternal relations have been extended “for a limited period with the object of resolving [the differences] if possible.”

Of course, splits on the eve of a Congress because of principled differences are not rooted in the tradition of the Leninist movement. The petty bourgeois opposition in the SWP (USA) has similar differences with the leadership, and nevertheless Trotsky insisted that no splits take place before the Congress. He ruthlessly denounced any threats of splits. (see In Defense of Marxism, p 62) Trotsky even went further. He was willing to live with the opposition in the same party even though the nature of the differences were the dialectic itself (!) and the defense of the USSR (!); he insisted that there would be no splits after the congress even if the differences remained the same. On the organizational question, he was willing to make the following concessions to the opposition after the Congress:

The continuation of discussion bulletins immediately after a long discussion and a convention is, of course, not a rule but an exception, a rather deplorable one. But we are not bureaucrats at all. We don’t have immutable rules. We are dialecticians also in the organizational field. If we have in the party an important minority which is dissatisfied with the decisions of the convention, it is incomparably more preferable to legalize the discussion after the convention than to have a split.   (In Defense of Marxism, p 101)

We do not propose that the IS should do this. We are just illustrating the differences in method.




The IS and RTT agreed to continue fraternal relations for six months; that was the agreement before we received the November 14 letter from the IS. The RTT wishes, at a minimum, to keep this agreement. We are against breaking off the relations now and we deplore any attempt to do it. Politically, events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are forcing answers to the disputes. We have full confidence in our positions and we are convinced that we can win the LRCI over to the correctness of our positions as events unfold before our eyes.

On the national question we have welcomed the change in the LRCI’s position on Croatia, and in this letter we have demonstrated that the heart of the difference on this question, as in the case of Yeltsin, is about a united front vs a popular front. Then we took note of the fact that in all cases, our differences on the national question have boiled down to the question of a united front with reactionary nationalist forces, and the difference between a united front and a popular front. As we went on to explain, the discussion on the united front that we started last year has not been completed. We ask the members of the LRCI to allow the discussion to continue to see whether the differences can be narrowed down considerably.

On the question of Yeltsin, the coming crucial months in the USSRS should help narrow and even possibly resolve the differences. As we wrote, the basis for our position is that the marketers were never genuinely democratic, and that it was pure illusion that Yeltsin, once in power, would permit the development of the forces for a political revolution and the preservation of the workers’ state. In fact, developing events show daily that the workers’ state has collapsed and that the ascension of Yeltsin to power has meant nothing progressive. Comrades, this is not a matter of tactics. But we continue to hope that a democratic and honest discussion on these questions could open the way narrow the differences.

The IS wants the RTT to declare that the differences are tactical and join the LRCI. Since they are not tactical, this would be a mistake. The RTT wishes to maintain fraternal relations, with a perspective to enter the LRCI as soon as possible; this is why we have been spending so much  time and energy in discussions with the LRCI. But we want to do it on a principled basis. If we were to enter today, without resolving the differences, it would be an unprincipled bloc which could result in a very acrimonious split. We think that we will have a better chance to narrow the differences if we remain a fraternal group for the time being. We understand that we cannot discuss forever. But the IS proposed six months and we agreed, so why go back on that? When the political struggle became more intense, there were organizational accusations and then counter-accusations, but the political disputes have remained the same and even narrowed somewhat (Croatia).

It is true that there are new differences on the question of democratic centralism. But relaxing the atmosphere, and creating the conditions for a genuine discussion, will show whether the differences on democratic centralism are exaggerated because of the heat of the discussion. If the leadership is convinced that it is correct, it should listen to the following advice from Trotsky:

It would naturally be a mistake to desire to organizationally liquidate an opposition group before the overwhelming majority of the party has had the chance to fully understand the inconsistency and sterility of that group. Leaders are often impatient in seeking to remove an obstacle in the path of the party’s activity. In such cases the party can and must correct the precipitateness of the leaders, since it is not only the leaders who educate the party but also the party that educates the leaders. Herein lies the salutary dialectic of democratic centralism. (Trotsky, Writings 1835-6, p 73)

We ask the IS to do the following

(1) Respect the agreement with the RTT and continue fraternal relations for at least six months during which time vigorous efforts will be made on both sides to resolve the differences.

(2) Remove any barriers to the RTT being part of a democratic discussion, and allow the RTT to attend the Congress if logistically possible for the RTT; if not, allow the RTT to submit an audiotaped statement of reasonable length (no more than one hour) to be played at an appropriate plenary session and made available to all at the Congress.

(3) Allow the RTT to conduct discussions with comrades who are in agreement with the RTT on some of the key issues in dispute (e.g., the Tendency in Workers Power)

(4) Remove any threat of disciplinary action against comrades, sections or fraternal sections that communicate with the RTT. The RTT will send copies of all its documents and letters to the office, but it is a basic right to write a letter or make a phone call to comrades in the LRCI. Any attempts to block this communication take away the fraternal content from the relations between the LRCI and the RTT.

We will let comrade Trotsky summarise our position:

It would be fantastic to ask from the leadership that they commit no errors. What we ask is to correct errors in time, so that the errors don’t become fatal. (Writings 1936-7, p 485)

Written by raved

August 4, 2012 at 2:42 am