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Leon Trotsky 19381115 A Contribution to Centrist Literature

Leon Trotsky: A Contribution to Centrist Literature

November 15, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 11, 1938-1938, New York ²1974, p. 112-118]

Rodrigo Garcia Trevino, The Munich Pact and the Third International (A Lecture and Four Articles), Publications of the Marxist Students Society of the National School of Economics (Mexico, 1938, 66 pp.).

This pamphlet is published by the Marxist Students Society. As its name implies, the society has set itself the task of studying Marxism. One could not but praise such a laudable goal in these days of complete prostitution of Marxist doctrine – if the society approached its task with the necessary seriousness. Unfortunately the preface of the pamphlet, written and signed by all the members of the society, does not give any proof of this seriousness.

It would be wrong to pick a quarrel with young people who have not yet managed to familiarize themselves with the ABCs of Marxism if they themselves took into account the state of their knowledge. At a certain age, ignorance is natural and can be overcome through study. But the problem arises when presumption is added to ignorance, when instead of diligently educating oneself, one desires to educate others. Unfortunately, however, this is the character of the editors' preface. Let us point out the principal errors; it would be impossible to enumerate them all.

The preface attempts to establish a relationship between the development of revolutionary theory and the different stages of development of bourgeois society. The intention is completely praiseworthy, but in order to realize it, it is necessary to know the history of bourgeois society and the history of ideologies. Our authors are acquainted with neither. They begin by stating that in the middle of the last century, the bourgeoisie "consolidated its political power on a world scale and opened up the stage of imperialism," and that it was at this point that the works of Marx and Engels appeared in the realm of doctrine and politics. This is all wrong, from beginning to end. In the middle of the last century the bourgeoisie was still far removed from "political power on a world scale." Let us not forget that ilie Communist Manifesto was written on the eve of the 1848 revolution. 126 After the defeat of this revolution the German bourgeoisie remained nationally dispersed, under the oppression of numerous dynasties. Bourgeois Italy was neither free nor unified. In the United States the bourgeoisie had yet to go through the Civil War to achieve unification of the (bourgeois) national state. In Russia absolutism and serfdom were completely dominant, etc., etc.

Furthermore, to say that the epoch of imperialism opened up in the middle of the last century, is to have not the slightest notion about either the past century or imperialism. Imperialism is the economic and political system (both domestic and foreign) of monopoly (finance) capital. In the middle of the past century only "liberal" capitalism existed, i.e., capitalism based on free competition, which at that time was still just tending toward the creation of democratic political forms. The trusts, the unions, the combines, were formed largely beginning in the thirties of the last century and progressively conquered a dominant position. Imperialist politics, in the scientific sense of the word, began at the turn of the present century. Had the authors read Lenin's well-known little book on imperialism, they would not have made such frightful errors. Just the same, they invoke Lenin. What sense does all of this make?

This is, however, just the beginning of a series of sad misunderstandings. Citing, apparently from some secondary source, Lenin's statement that imperialism is "the highest stage of capitalism," our authors attempt to complete and expand upon Lenin. "... Our generation," they write, "interpreting Lenin, can in turn establish as a point of doctrine that fascism is the highest phase, the highest degree, of imperialism, the highest stage of the bourgeois regime." Reading these pretentious lines makes our hair stand on end. "Our generation" should study before giving lessons. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism in the objective economic sense: imperialism brought the forces of production to the ultimate level of development conceivable on the basis of private property forms and closed the road to their further development. In doing this it opened up the era of capitalist decay. Moreover, having centralized production, imperialism created the most important economic precondition for a socialist economy. Thus the characterization of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism rests on the dialectic of the development of the productive forces and has a strictly scientific character.

The analogous conclusion that our authors attempt to draw, that "fascism is the highest stage of imperialism," has absolutely no economic content. Fascism is above all the political regime that crowns the regime of economic decay. Arising from the decline of the productive forces, fascism opens up no further possibilities for their development. Imperialism was a historical necessity. Marx predicted the rule of monopoly. It was impossible to predict fascism, because it is not determined by economic necessity in the dialectical (rather than the mechanical) sense of the word. Once the proletariat had found itself incapable, for various historical reasons, of seizing power in time and taking hold of the economy in order to reconstruct it along socialist lines, decaying capitalism was only able to continue its existence by substituting fascist dictatorship for bourgeois democracy. Since imperialism appeared as the most advanced form of capitalism, fascism was a step backward, a political setback, the beginning of society's descent into barbarism.

Our authors are completely mistaken when they try to prove their discovery (that "fascism is the last stage of imperialism") by citing Marx's words that no society disappears from the historical scene before it has exhausted all of its productive potential. For it is precisely the case that imperialism had already exhausted its creative potential by the eve of the last world war. Bourgeois society has not disappeared in good time, for no society that outlives its time has disappeared by itself. The revolutionary class must overthrow it. The Second International and then the Third International prevented this from being done. Fascism follows from this and from this alone. The present crisis of human civilization is the result of the crisis of proletarian leadership. The revolutionary class does not yet have a party that can assure by its leadership the resolution of the fundamental problem of our epoch: the conquest of power by the international proletariat.

★ ★ ★

From the fact that imperialism has attained its "ultimate" (?!) stage, fascism, our authors draw the conclusion that a renewal of revolutionary doctrine is necessary. They take this task upon themselves. They propose to start with a critique of the doctrine of the Third International. It seems that they are completely unaware of the enormous volume of critical work on this subject that the international Bolshevik-Leninist faction has produced during the last fifteen years, especially since the Chinese revolution (1925-27). The authors of the preface treat the sole Marxist tendency of our epoch with an impertinence and light-mindedness that are totally inadmissible. Here is what they say about the Fourth International: "In our opinion, on international questions it [the Fourth International] has without doubt made mistakes – let us call them that – that have robbed it of its militancy as a vanguard group." That is all. Such an appreciation can arise only in minds infected with the microbe of Stalinism. The Fourth International is the only organization that has provided a Marxist analysis of all the events and processes of the previous historical period: the Thermidorean degeneration of the USSR, the Chinese revolution, Pilsudski's coup d'etat in Poland, Hitler's coup d'etat in Germany, the defeat of the Austrian Social Democracy, the "third period" line of the Comintern, the People's Front, the Spanish revolution, etc. What do our authors know about all of this? Apparently, absolutely nothing. To demonstrate the bankruptcy of the Fourth International, they cite . . . the panegyrics Trotsky addressed to Cabrera and De la Fuente.

The Cabrera episode consisted of the fact that this intelligent conservative lawyer saw through the falsifications of the Moscow trials, while certain imbeciles on the "left" took them for good coin. Trotsky drew the attention of public opinion to Cabrera's absolutely correct juridical analysis. Nothing more! It would be absurd to view this as some sort of political solidarity. Up till now, our "Marxist" students have said nothing, absolutely nothing, about the Moscow trials, which claimed the party of Lenin as their victim. Isn't it shameful under these conditions to hide behind Cabrera? Stalinism has consciously created this sort of bogeyman for frightening small children. Cabrera! Oh, horrible! However, from a Marxist point of view the difference between Cabrera and Toledano is not very great. Both of them maintain themselves on the terrain of bourgeois society and both of them carry its traits. Toledano is more harmful and more dangerous, because he hides behind the mask of socialism.

As for De la Fuente, we have no idea what they are talking about. Won't our impertinent authors explain this to us?

In any case there is nothing more light-minded and shameful than evaluating the historical role of an organization that has suffered thousands of victims on the basis of a journalistic episode of the second order. Basically the authors of the preface adopt the tone of Stalinism. The crux of the matter is this: they promise to submit all doctrines to an "independent" critique, but in fact they bow to the rotten, nauseating milieu of the Stalinist bureaucracy. In order to legitimize their pitiable Marxist exercises, they consider it opportune to attack Trotskyism. It should be said, moreover, that this "method" of reassuring oneself is characteristic of all the petty-bourgeois intellectuals of our time.

★ ★ ★

As for Trevino's contribution (the lecture and the articles), his positive trait is his effort to wrench himself from the toils of Stalinism, and Toledanoism, which represents the worst form of Stalinism, the worst because it is the most superficial, the most insubstantial, the most blustering and vacuous form of Stalinism. The misfortune is that.Trevino thinks and writes as if history began with him. Marxists approach all phenomena, including ideas, in the context of their development. To say: "Return to Lenin!" or "Return to Marx!" is saying very little. It is impossible now to return to Marx while leaving Lenin aside, that is to say, while closing one's eyes to the enormous amount of work carried out under Lenin's leadership in applying, explaining, and developing Marxism.

Since Lenin ceased to play an active role fifteen years have already passed –a whole historic period, crammed with great world events! During this time "Leninism," in the formal sense of the word, has divided into two wings: Stalinism, the official ideology and practice of the parasitic Soviet bureaucracy, and revolutionary Marxism, which its adversaries call "Trotskyism." All world events have passed through these two theoretical "filters." Trevino, however, feels that it is his right–the right of a subjectivist and not of a Marxist –to ignore the real ideological development that is expressed in the implacable battle of these two tendencies. He himself, without knowing it, feeds on the debris scattered by our critique, but after a long delay. Of course, it is not simply a question of the delay itself: after a certain time lag the whole young generation must pass through the school of the Fourth International. That is not the problem. The problem is that Trevino tries to adapt his critique to the official "doctrine" of Stalinism. He tries to make his revolutionary ideas into friendly "remarks" on commonplaces and on pacifist and social-imperialist banalities. He wants to convince the Comintern of his good intentions and of the advantages of diluted Marxism (centrism) over outright opportunism. But the task of the revolutionary is not to reeducate the Stalinist bureaucracy (they are a hopeless case!) but to educate the workers in the spirit of intransigent defiance towards the bureaucracy.

We will not go into a detailed evaluation of Trevino's pamphlet here, because we would have to comment on every page and every line. Trevino is wrong even when he is right. By this we mean to say that even the various correct observations (and there are some that are not bad) are put in an incorrect framework, an imprecise perspective, because the author remains basically a centrist. It is impossible to live with this position. It is Trevino's immediate duty to undertake a radical revision of his political baggage, comparing his hybrid corrections of Stalinism to the clear and precise formulations of the Fourth International. This is the only way that he will be able to get out of the impasse of centrism.

When Trevino enumerates the occasional errors of the Fourth International discovered here and there in his effort to evaluate the movement as a whole, and when he arrives at the monstrous conclusion that this movement plays a "counterrevolutionary" role, he is trying basically to adapt himself to his former allies and comrades. Fearfully he looks behind him and sees the Bonapartists of the Kremlin. He takes on a protective coloration. His various critical remarks on certain episodes of a secondary nature involving certain sections of the Fourth International may be well taken or not (in general they are wrong). But it is the very manner in which he approaches the question that is false. The task and the obligation of a serious Marxist is to discern what is basic, fundamental, to see things in their entirety, and to base his judgments on this. We are afraid, however, that the problem is not simply that Trevino is little acquainted with the literature of the Fourth International. Dilettantism, superficiality, and a lack of preoccupation with theory are at present widespread in the ranks of intellectuals, even among those who consider themselves "Marxists." This is a result of the oppression of world reaction, Stalinism included. But it is impossible to take a step forward without returning to the tradition of scientific Marxist consciousness.

When Lombardo Toledano, with the grace befitting him, asks where and when the representatives of the Fourth International have written anything on fascism, we can only shrug our shoulders with pity. The Fourth International emerged and grew from the fight against fascism. From 1929 on we predicted the victory of Hitler if the Comintern continued on its "third period" course. The Bolshevik-Leninists wrote a great number of articles, pamphlets, and books on this subject in various languages. If Toledano knows nothing of this, that is in the order of things. But Trevino? Is it possible that he insists on speaking of something he knows nothing about?

In 1933 we publicly declared: if the victory of Hitler, assured by the Kremlin's political orientation, teaches the Comintern nothing, this will mean that the Comintern is dead. And since the Comintern learned nothing from Hitler's victory, we drew the proper conclusions: we founded the Fourth International. The petty-bourgeois pseudo-Marxists, who are good for nothing even as democrats, imagine that the struggle against fascism consists of declamatory speeches at meetings and conferences. The real struggle against fascism is inseparable from the class struggle of the proletariat against the foundations of capitalist society. Fascism is not an inevitable economic stage. But it is not a mere "accident." It is the result of the inability of the degenerated and completely rotten parties of the proletariat to assure the victory of socialism. Consequently the struggle against fascism is, above all, the struggle for a new revolutionary leadership for the international proletariat. That is the historical significance of the work of the Fourth International. It is only from this point of view that this work can be understood and evaluated!

The theoretical side of Marxism is indissolubly linked to its active side. In this epoch of unbridled reaction, aggravated by the decay of what not long ago was the Comintern, it is only possible to be a Marxist if one has an unshakable will, political and ideological courage, and the ability to swim against the stream. We sincerely hope that Trevino has these qualities. If he can put an end to indecision and vacillation, he will have the opportunity to render important services to the cause of revolutionary Marxism.