The “Trotskyism” of the Second International
WAR and the WORKERS LEAGUE
[Reprinted from Workers Vanguard #7, April, 1972. Originally posted online at http://anti-sep-tic.blogspot.com/2009/05/1972-april-war-and-workers-league.html ]
In the current period of heightened inter-imperialist rivalry, the pressures of war will be reflected in increasing measure in the opportunism of sections of the workers movement which abandon their proclaimed struggle for international revolutionary solidarity of the workers in favor bf support to one section or another of the imperialists struggling for a greater share of plunder. Our task becomes more urgent, therefore, to conduct a relentless exposure of workers’ and radical organizations which now support, openly or backhandedly, bourgeois forces in war.
We analyze here one recent case of egregious betrayal of the working class by an ostensibly revolutionary, even “Trotskyist” organization. That the Workers League, the American section of the “International Committee for the Fourth International” of Tim Wohlforth and Gerry Healy, took its public stand in favor of the military moves of the Indian bourgeois government in the India-Pakistan war, responding to pressure no greater than the current relative popularity of the Indian action, indicates the certainty and depth of their future betrayals in wars of wider proportions and greater consequent pressure to betray to a section of the bourgeoisie. If the unbridled opportunism characteristic of the Worker League/Socialist Labour League combination is not politically expunged from the workers movement in time, revolutionists will write of them in future major wars as Lenin in 1915 characterized the policy of the social chauvinists of the Second International:
“Forty-four years after the Paris Commune, after half a century of the mustering and preparing of mass forces, the revolutionary class of Europe must, at the present moment, when Europe is passing through a catastrophic period, think of how to quickly become the lackey of its national bourgeoisie, how to help it plunder, violate, ruin and conquer other peoples, and how to refrain from launching, on a mass scale, direct revolutionary propaganda and preparation for revolutionary action.”
– Lenin, “Imperialism and Socialism in Italy,” Collected Works, Vol. 21, p. 366.
Such was Lenin’s paraphrasing of the Second International’s position. We shall see why his fight for an independent working-class revolutionary policy in bourgeois wars retains burning importance today.
In the article “War, Revolution and Self-Determination” in the January 1972 number of Workers Vanguard, the Spartacist League analyzed the India-Pakistan war and the duty of revolutionists to seek the defeat of both governments and their armies in that war. The SL position flew in the face, as usual, of most of what was being said on the left; its opponents, either directly supported the Indian army (Workers League/ Socialist Labour League) or claimed that behind that army, despite it, with its help or because of it, somehow, was a national liberation struggle instead of its opposite; somehow the invading Indian army with its tanks and planes was being “used” by the Bengali workers and peasants. What remains of the “International Committee” of Tim Wohlforth and Gerry Healy explicitly stated: “We critically support the decision of the Indian bourgeois government to give military and economic aid to Bangla Desh”[Bulletin, 20 December 1971], We distinguished between aid from a bourgeois government and control by that government and noted that the Indian bourgeoisie had obviously taken control of the just Bengali self-determination struggle, and that a “self-determination struggle” under the total military and political control of another nation’s bourgeoisie is something other than it claims to be.
Wohlforth “replied” to our characterization of the IC as “waterboy for the Indian army” in an article “Spartacist Rediscovers Shachtman” in the 17 January 1972 issue of his Bulletin. The title refers to WV’s view that in 1942 the stance of the Workers Party of Max Shachtman on the question of the Chinese “self-determination struggle” was more Leninist than that taken by the Socialist Workers Party led by James P. Cannon.
The central thrust of the WL’s “reply” is to smear the SL as “Shachtmanites,” i.e, as anti-Marxist renegades, and thereby cancel out the impact our arguments (on Bangladesh, the WL position on the working-class character of the police, their role in the National Peace Action Coalition [NPAC] as left face of SWP class-collaboration documented inWorkers Action #10, etc.) are having on Wohlforth’s own ranks. He shelves any defense of his indefensible support to the Indian bourgeoisie in favor of slander and label-pasting, hoping thereby to escape the impossible task of answering what we said about his stand. After all, we may be right, but he has the method; and even when correct we are still abstentionist petty-bourgeois empiricist swine.
Wohlforth accuses the SL, together with the SWP, Red Mole, the OCI, etc., of sharing “…the same methodological and class position as the Shachtman group in 1940” [emphasis added], The SWP majority in 1940 characterized the Shachtman-Burnham-Abern grouping as a petty-bourgeois current in flight from the working class and the imperative defense of the Soviet Union, and presumably that is now what the Wohlforthites tell each other the lot of us are.
According to Wohlforth “the direct connection between the present day abstentionists and their Shachtmanite ancestors is Spartacist.” Whatever this may mean metaphysically to Wohlforth, it is the direct reverse of the facts, as anybody outside the Workers League should have the political knowledge to recognize. None of the groups attacked for “abstentionism” (SWP, Red Mole, the OCI, and the SL) trace their political or organizational ancestry to Shachtman’s Workers Party/Independent Socialist League/Young Socialist League; all of them to this day stand formally on the position of the Trotsky-Cannon Majority in the 1939-1940 SWP faction fight; they all maintain formal continuity on the question of the class nature of the Soviet Union and the necessity to defend it against imperialism; all regard the Shachtman-Burnham-Abern break a consequence of petty-bourgeois capitulation to anti-Soviet “democratic” imperialism, All of them How the Pabloists (SWP, Red Mole) and the inverted Pabloists of Healy-Wohlforth’s IC became revisionists had nothing to do with the issues of the 1939-1940 SWP fight, except in the elementary sense of the kinship of all varieties of revisionism and centrism. There is an organization which traces its ancestry to Shachtman – the International Socialists – and they are not mentioned in Wohlforth’s essay on Shachtmanism ! (The IS’ “two wars” position on Bangladesh was criticized in the WV article.)
Wohlforth quotes a section from our above-mentioned article in the January WV (leaving the source unidentified so as to make it tougher to look up) which raised the similarity between the slogan of self-determination for China in the circumstances of World War II and. support for Bengali “self-determination” under conditions of total Indian control of that movement. We referred to Shachtman’s conclusion “that such support was merely backhanded assistance to U.S. imperialism which not only merely assisted, but controlled the Chinese forces,”
Wohlforth’s “answer” avoids the China-India analogy, the question of the U.S. in China in World War II, and the question of Bangladesh independence – which is what our article was about. The section of the article he does quote was aimed not at Wohlforth, but at the more circumspect SWP, whose objective support to India was backhanded. In the section dealing with Wohlforth, titled “Healyite ‘Principles’ Oil the Tanks,” we wrote:
“The SWP ‘merely’ justifies the capitulation of the Bangla Desh leaders to the Indian army; the Healyites openly support the Indian bourgeoisie’s army.”
This characterization was not surmise on our part. We quoted the Bulletin text:
“We [the ‘International Committee’] critically support the decision of the Indian bourgeois government to give military and economic aid to Bangla Desh.”
Since the WV’s view that the IC “has proclaimed itself waterboy for the Indian bourgeoisie’s army,” was based on a literal reading of the very words they wrote in their press, no one should be surprised that Wohlforth does not deal with them. No chance. Why attempt to defend a grotesque betrayal? Wohlforth quotes our reference to Shachtman’s position on China in World War II, and lets fly. WV had said:
“In a polemic with the SWP in 1942 it fell to Max Shachtman’s lot to place the general principle of support to self-determination struggles within a context of Leninist regard for concrete reality. The issue was China. Should socialists support China’s war against Japanese imperialism on the grounds of self-determination for China, or had such support become merely, as Shachtman charged, backhanded assistance to U.S. imperialism which not merely assisted, but controlled the Chinese forces?”
“Every word of the SL passage is like a textbook example of the reactionary empirical method of the petty bourgeoisie. First Max Shachtman is abstracted from… Max Shachtman, [Bulletin’s dots]. It just happened to ‘fall’ to Shachtman, who had just committed a criminal split with Trotsky deserting the defense of the Soviet Union under the class pressure of imperialism, to defend Leninist principle! Shachtman himself is broken up into a series of episodes and positions some of which are correct and some incorrect. This in itself represents a complete abandonment of theoretical thought.”
The generous, open-minded reader might be inclined to think that while the argument is admittedly murky and inept, where the Bulletin creates so much smoke there must be fire. The smoke turns out to be but dust as Wohlforth thrashes his straw man.
What Is Shachtmanism?
The character of Shachtmanism and the experience of the Workers Party is indeed fit material for discussion among Marxists. Wohlforth raises it to pose as “defender of Trotsky.” For Wohlforth – in order to lend horror to his label – must assert that the break with the SWP in 1940 over the question of Soviet defensism was an immediate repudiation of all Marxist principles – hereafter the SWP majority would be right on all disputed questions, and the “Shachtmanites” wrong on all of them. To assert anything else would be breaking Shachtman up “into a series of episodes and positions some of which are correct and some incorrect” and a “complete abandonment of theoretical thought.” That this nonsense can be passed off in public without flinching as the embodiment of “Marxist method” is an indictment not of Shachtmanism but the abysmal political miseducation carried on inside the WL. It runs counter to the experience and practice of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky; it is a cultist argument attractive to a Stalin-Wohlforth-Catholic mentality but death to Marxists. It effectively denies the Leninist conception of both democratic centralism and the united front; it turns regroupment like that between the Bolsheviks and Trotsky’s Mezhrayontsi in 1917 into capitulation not fusion. It flies in the face of reality in that during the war years there was substantial agreement between the SWP and the WP on the issues they faced, much to the confusion of militant workers and the radical public generally. This led to the two organizations holding unity negotiations in 1946 to consider whether sufficient agreement existed between them to establish a fused party. Further, during the years 1940-46 the Workers Party considered itself, and was considered by European Fourth International sections, as co-thinkers of the Fourth International.
Wohlforthian Method: Cultist Cretinism
Wohlforth’s reasoning on what he fancies is “petty bourgeois empiricism” is childish, stupid, and anti-Marxist to the core. On one level, of course we must break Shachtmanism up “into a series of episodes some of which are correct and some incorrect.” Wohlforth claims to be both a Leninist and a Trotskyist. To do so he must either employ the method he labels “empiricism” or simply ignore the intense polemics Lenin and Trotsky waged against each other for years. Obviously in those episodes one or the other, but not both and maybe neither, was correct. Trotsky was won over to Lenin’s conception of the organizational question and Lenin came to accept Trotsky’s stand on the Permanent Revolution and the tasks of the proletariat in the democratic revolution. No intelligent study of the years before the October Revolution can fail to show that Lenin was wrong as against Trotsky on an aspect of their task, and vice versa. We do not claim that either Max Shachtman or J. P. Cannon were ever Marxists of the stature of Lenin or Trotsky. But only a political imbecile, a cultist pseudo-Marxist can ignore the fact that generally healthy Marxist organizations and leaders have been wrong, or took inadequate positions on particular issues for periods of time; and that even groups standing generally to their right occasionally took superior positions on particular issues at a given time. Wohlforth’s denunciations of the SL for noting that Shachtman espoused what we consider a correct position on the Chinese issue shortly after his “criminal split with Trotsky” only shows his dread of critical analysis. What Wohlforth calls “the reactionary empirical method of the petty bourgeoisie” – i.e. careful investigation into all the issues in a political dispute such as that between the SWP and WP-Lenin considered essential in politics, and remarked that anyone who did not study the issues for himself “can be dismissed with a simple gesture of the hand.”
Was it not Stalin who argued that to separate Trotsky’s critique of bureaucratic degeneration in a workers state afterthe revolution from Trotsky’s centrist-Menshevik position on organizational questions before the revolution constituted an abandonment of Marxism-that Trotsky, wrong earlier on the one question, had to be wrong on the other? Or conversely, was it not Stalin again who argued that to separate Lenin of the “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” from Lenin the builder of the democratic centralist Bolshevik party constituted the grossest heresy? In point of fact, it “just happened to fall” to Lenin to first abstract Lenin from… Lenin, to refute his “old self” in the April Theses. He had been an “Old Guard” within the Party and the main proponent of a now outmoded theory. Lenin’s new position approximated Trotsky’s correct theory that the dictatorship of the proletariat (in alliance with the peasantry) could be established in Russia without a prior European socialist revolution or a period of workers and peasants democratic dictatorship.
Has Wohlforth utterly forgotten that Trotskyism itself became a system only as a theoretical response to Stalin’s progressive abandonment of the hard conclusions of the October Revolution, on the one hand, and Trotsky’s shedding of his earlier, “episodic” position on the party on the other?
Stalin, like Wohlforth, began with the proposition: The masters of Marxism are infallible and the renegades are wholly bankrupt. The cult Stalin built around Lenin was only preparatory to the one-he built around himself. Stalin accomplished this not solely through the building of statues and the recitation of incantations, but through a theory of the direct coincidence of truth with a single individual’s thought until that individual and not his positions become the ultimate authority. The application of Trotsky’s theory of uneven and combined development to the realm of cognition provides a useful antidote to this Stalinist-Wohlforthite theory.
There is another aspect of Wohlforthian methodology we need to take up for a moment. Wohlforth’s celestial dialectic refuses to descend to the worldly plane. When we acknowledged Shachtman’s role on the Chinese question of 1942, we did so on the basis of his placing “the general principle of support to self-determination struggles within a context of Leninist regard for concrete reality” against Wright of the SWP. It is not because we consider China of 1942 exactly analogous to Bangladesh in 1972 but rather because Shachtman’s methodology was consistently Leninist in those articles.
When we consider the concrete, if you please, criteria of support to Chiang over which Wright and Shachtman argued, it resolves to whether military aid and strategic military subordination through imperialist control of the general staff (General Stillwell’s command) was a sufficient basis to decisively transform Chiang’s anti-Japanese struggle into an appendage of U.S. imperialism. Shachtman thought so; Wright did not.
What Wohlforth has overlooked is that both Shachtman and Wright, the WP and the SWP, agreed that a U.S. army invasion would make the question moot and of course subordination to imperialist arms would be unmistakable.
The physical presence of the Indian army backing up the military command of General Aurora places Wohlforth against Shachtman, Lenin and the SWP! If there were a Dantean Inferno to which Wohlforth were consigned, it would consist of him endlessly fleeing all the figures, revolutionary and centrist alike, who were after this political bandit’s hide.
Shortly after the WP’s repudiation of Soviet defensism and its split from the SWP, James Burnham split with the WP majority to find his place in ultra-right politics thereby lessening the internal pressure for a consistent anti-Marxist generalization. Shachtman and Abern continued to consider themselves Trotskyists until after the end of World War II, and in a few cases – and the question of support to Chiang Kai-Shek’s China during the Pacific War was one of them – the Workers Party was correct as against the SWP. Anyone who reads it will discover that Shachtman’s argument was essentially an “orthodox” gloss on Lenin’s position on Serbia and Poland during World War I, applying the criteria Lenin developed to the new imperialist war.
That the SWP could be wrong on an issue should hardly surprise Wohlforth. In his own pamphlet “The Struggle for Marxism in the United States,” Wohlforth characterizes the period of World War II as one in which “American Radicalism Reasserts Itself,” arguing that the SWP was then slipping into narrow “orthodoxy,” able to “reassert” past positions but not creatively apply Marxist principles to new situations – a polite way of saying that their positions were wrong or inadequate on a number of things. Is it then Wohlforth’s position that no one could be right on those questions?
In the long run, under the enormous pressure of U.S. imperialism, the Shachtmanites, left to their own devices, had to find themselves in the camp of that same imperialism. That happened, but not according to the Workers League’s latest timetable – it took seventeen years from the split in 1940 before the reconciliation of the WP with American social democracy took place. It is not inconceivable that the whole process of the WP’s disintegration could have been reversed had reunification with the SWP taken place before the full pressure of the cold war atmosphere bore down on both organizations. Certainly between the years 1940-46 the WP was no literary exponent of world imperialism, as one would infer from the Bulletin, but rather a left centrist party whose members seriously desired a communist revolution. The disintegration and decay of the WP must be analyzed in the same way as the demise of the revolutionary SWP, as a process by which the SWP moved to a severe deformation as a revolutionary party by 1953, when the principle of internationalism was undercut, to rightward moving centrism as the SWP totally embraced Fidel Castro in 1961, to 1965, when they joined hands as reformists with the liberal imperialists in the anti-war popular front.
To leave the question here would merely invite more WL sneers about “evolutionary method.” The “Shachtmanite” slander is too valuable for Wohlforth to give up voluntarily; it is a time-worn anathema which has allowed him and the SWP to evade answering our charges of betrayal to their ranks. But it is easily exploded.
Wohlforth vs. Wohlforth – Again
In 1962 the forerunners of the Spartacist League and the present Wohlforth grouping were members of an oppositional minority tendency in the SWP. At the behest of Gerry Healy of the English SLL Wohlforth sought control of the tendency, and failing to win a majority, consummated an unprincipled split within its ranks. We have published the documents of this rupture in Marxist Bulletin #3: The Split in the Revolutionary Tendency. The first document in the collection is a letter from James Robertson to Geoffrey White, written a month before the break was carried out, detailing the machinations of Wohlforth in preparing the split. It reads:
“Tim Wohlforth gives every evidence of ardently desiring the Robertson-Ireland wing of the tendency out of the Minority and out of the party, and the sooner the better – as witness his concluding remarks at the last NYC tendency meeting: ‘Robertson’s covertly for a split within a few months. If Jim goes, good riddance!’ And of course there is the ‘break all ties, deepen the breach’ tone and language of his document. Cannon wrote more mildly of Shachtman in 1940, though Tim obviously believes he and I are the exact reincarnations of those two then. So driven is he to create a panic mood of hate to consummate a split of the tendency that to add to the compound picture of a petty bourgeois grouping of the upper West Side’s middle-class 103 St. fleeing the proletarian factory quarters at101 St. that poor old Tim snarls and foams at any decent comrade daring to call the Shachtmanites of 1941 -46 a left-centrist grouping. To cite Tim Wohlforth against Tim Wohlforth, however:
‘We can now get an accurate picture of the political development of the Shachtman tendency. It was born in 1940 as a petty bourgeois opposition with in the Trotskyist movement. It went through a “second split” with the mass exodus of those who rode the opposition bloc out of the movement altogether. It then launched a party and attempted to compete with the SWP to be the Trotskyist party in this country. It contained at this time divergent tendencies which pushed it in different directions. It had within it tendencies which wished a reconciliation with the SWP by building a united Trotskyist party. It had other tendencies which forced it to the right-to a definitive break with Trotskyism in 1946. We can characterize the WP of this period as a left centrist grouping of unstable composition which couldn’t quite decide exactly where it was going. Then following the 1946 WP-SWP unity affair and with the opening of the cold-war witch hunt, it began to move to the right at an accelerated pace, transforming itself from a competing tendency within the Trotskyist movement into a centrist “third camp” tendency which felt itself antagonistic to Trotskyism as well as to reformism. It stayed only for a relatively short time in this centrist limbo as it soon struck out in an open reformist direction, seeking today to become theloyal left wing of the social democracy.’ ” (page 22, What Makes Shachtman Run?, Tim Wohlforth, August, 1957.)
In 1964 Wohlforth stated the following on the SWP which he now holds up against Shachtman as absolutely right on the China issue:
” … The theoretical sterility of the SWP goes much farther back than that  having its roots in Cannon’s empirical bloc with Trotsky covering the whole period from 1928 to 1940. Cannon and the SWP’s leading cadres never attempted to master the Marxist method. It was Trotsky’s job to develop theory and Cannon’s job to build an organization around his theories. This division of labor broke down with the Shachtman fight in 1940 when a good half of the party was lost to petty bourgeois revisionism and the rest saved largely by Trotsky supplanting the SWP leadership in-the struggle.”
-Tim Wohlforth, letter to Robertson, 12 August 1964 in ACFI “Information Bulletin No. 1” (undated) referring to the SL-ACFI unity negotiations. [our emphasis]
Thus Wohlforth in 1964 considered the American Trotskyists from the time of their founding to be totally lacking in revolutionary capacity and nothing more than organizational hacks in a bloc with Trotsky. The implicit conclusion, of course, is that Wohlforth is this country’s first Marxist! But more important than Wohlforth’s pathetic self-glorification is the logic of his argument, for given his characterization of the SWP surely it is axiomatic that without Trotsky the SWP, if it took any correct positions at all, must have arrived at them by dumb luck or sterile reflexive orthodoxy!
Wohlforth’s twisting of history for petty factional gain is the same now as in 1962. The purpose, like the method, is analogous. A number of leaders of the SWP oppositional grouping which became the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) in 1961 had come aver to Trotskyism from Shachtman’s dissolving ISL/YSL, among them Mage, Robertson and Wohlforth. The SWP leadership carried out a slander barrage against all these leaders, who had broken from Shachtmanism, as “unreconstructed Shachtmanites.” The individuals who were to go on to found the SL insisted on a serious evaluation of degeneration and decay of the Shachtmanite organizations, as they were to do with the partly parallel breakdown of the SWP. Wohlforth was then looking for an opening to make common cause with the Dobbs leadership to smash the Robertson-Mage-White grouping. The fraudulent issue of “Shachtmanism” arose, and Wohlforth jumped at the chance to use it, despite the fact that he was one of the central targets of the SWP’s slander! As then, so now: to get the SL, he establishes another bloc with the SWP, reaching across ten years in time, to underwrite his contention that the SWP was right to expel these people, since all the time they were only concealed Shachtmanites! Now as then he continues to offer aid and credence to the SWP Pabloists as their loyal opposition, asking only one thing – get the Spartacist League!
Parenthetically, one can trace a political origin to many of the present and past SL cadres and leaders that is different from that typical of the WL-SWP: namely origins in the CPUSA! Thus Geoff White was a state chairman of the CP and Smith Act indictee; Ed L., a long-time CP trade union cadre; Jim Robertson, a CP youth activist; and then Harry Turner, buried for years in a CP underground cell. These were later joined by Dave Cunningham of the Iowa CP and Marv Treiger from the Los Angeles CP. All these comrades were led to Trotskyism out of the clash between their subjective revolutionary impulses and the realities of Stalinism, i.e. a recapitulation of the road of the original Left Opposition itself.
In 1957 when Wohlforth was struggling to be a Marxist and not a political bandit he characterized rather well the pressures and dynamics which made the WP “a left centrist grouping of unstable composition which couldn’t quite decide where it was going” in the period before its definitive break with Trotskyism in 1946. According to Wohlforth today, his own analysis in 1957 can only be breaking Shachtman up “into a series of episodes, some of which are correct and some incorrect,” which is “a textbook example of the reactionary empirical method of the petty bourgeoisie.” Wohlforth says that in such an approach “Max Shachtman is abstracted from… Max Shachtman”; we can only observe that the above counterpositioning indicates that, by Wohlforth methodology, Wohlforth is dissolved into… Wohlforth. Hegel observed about the reflective nature of philosophy that “the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk”; Wohlforth’s owl flies deaf, drunk and night-blind.
Now, nearly ten years after the split in the RT, Wohlforth brings up the same charges, in the same manner, for an even baser purpose. This time Wohlforth uses the “Shachtmanism” slander to cover his bloc with a section of the Indian bourgeoisie and the Indian army, a bloc which the logic of Marxism and class struggle dictates can only be ultimately directed against the workers and peasants of India and Bangladesh and the revolutionary movement.
Those Little Dots
Wohlforth begins his piece with a quote from Trotsky:
“Throughout all the vacillations and convulsions of the opposition, contradictory though they may be, two general features run like a guiding thread from the pinnacles of theory down to the most trifling political episodes. The first general feature is the absence of a unified conception…. History becomes transformed into a series of improvisations. We have here in the full sense of the term the disintegration of Marxism, the disintegration of theoretical thought, the disintegration of politics into its constituent elements. Empiricism and its foster brother, impressionism, dominate from top to bottom…. Throughout the vacillations and convulsions of the opposition, there is a second general feature intimately bound up with the first, namely, a tendency to refrain from active participation, a tendency to self elimination, to abstentionism, naturally under cover of ultra-radical phrases…. Hot on the trail of ‘concrete’ political tasks in words, the opposition actually places itself outside the historical process.”
One wouldn’t know it from the Bulletin text, but the quote from Trotsky which Wohlforth has adduced against the SL is taken from Trotsky’s “An Open Letter to Comrade Burnham” included in In Defense of Marxism. More than the source is omitted. By omitting Trotsky’s reference to what positions he was criticizing, Wohlforth’s quote amounts to no better than a forgery of Trotsky’s words. What politics of Burnham’s is Trotsky characterizing? Omitted from Wohlforth’s selection are Trotsky’s references to “Hitler and Stalin in Poland; Stalin and Mannerheim in Finland.” Trotsky is referring to Burnham’s refusal to defend the Soviet state and his hostile attitude toward the dialectic and to the question of the class difference between that state and its bourgeois-imperialist enemies. That is the first point: it was not for refusing military support to a bourgeois state (in any kind of war) that Trotsky and the SWP majority denounced the Burnham-Shachtman-Abern minority. It was for their responsiveness to bourgeois public opinion running against such support to the Soviet Union. See any difference there, Cde. Wohlforth? Or is that hair-splitting over “concrete reality” again?
Wohlforth: Revolutionary Defeatism Equals Abstentionism
Next point: Wohlforth hopes that a smokescreen of quotations from Trotsky written against positions entirely different from the SL’s will convince the reader that a position, clearly stated, against both of two warring bourgeois armies is abstentionism! A really abstentionist organization would have evaded an analysis of the war, or claimed simply that wars are tragic events for the workers. The SL took the position of revolutionary defeatism against both Indian and Pakistani bourgeois governments and their armies. That Wohlforth calls abstentionism. He gets involved, he takes sides – no abstentionist he, no indeed! – he pitched right into the fray on the side of one of the bourgeois robbers! The policy of revolutionary defeatism in a bourgeois war meant something rather different, for Trotsky, than standing “outside the historical process.” Wohlforth doesn’t say so of course, but he has condemned Lenin’s entire policy during World War I as “abstentionist,” and “empiricist” besides, since Lenin was manifestly concerned with “concrete conditions.” Wohlforth’s “anti-abstentionism” is that of the betraying Second International which also took sides – lots of them – bourgeois sides.
Wohlforth: Britain Equals Pakistan
Third point: in case any one of his readers is quick to notice the class distinction between the Soviet state – which was what the 1939-40 debate was about – and the bourgeois Indian state, Wohlforth immediately dishes up another non-sequitur to cloud the issue doubly. At least in this instance his quote does refer to India. Thus the following from Trotsky, again offered without source:
“India is participating in the imperialist war on the side of Great Britain. Does this mean that our attitude toward India – not the Indian Bolsheviks but INDIA – is the same as toward Great Britain? If there exists in this world, in addition to Shachtman and Burnham, only two imperialist camps, then where, permit me to ask, shall we put India? A Marxist will say that despite India’s being an integral part of the British Empire and India’s participating in the imperialist war; despite the perfidious policy of Gandhi and other nationalist leaders, our attitude toward India is altogether different from our attitude toward England. We defend India against England.”
That is a good statement of the SL position: it too defends India against England, against the U. S., and the rest. Now where, Cde. Wohlforth, did Trotsky defend an Indian war against Pakistan, or before that state’s existence,against Afghanistan, Burma, Iran or China? You raise the question of wars and the colonial world. Name one instance in Tim Wohlforth which Lenin or Trotsky urged or supported a war by any colony, client state, or imperialist-dominated backward nation against another. By Bolivia against Peru? By Iran against Turkey? Does Wohlforth presume to bend reality (or his despised “concrete conditions”) to fit Trotsky’s position on a fundamentally different issue so far as to assert that Pakistan is imperialist like the U. S. or Britain while India is Pakistan’s colony in rebellion? A war between Britain and India is of course a different matter for Marxists than a war between Britain and Germany, But a war between one tin-pot semi-colonial bourgeoisie and another such bourgeoisie is not different in this respectfrom a war between two great imperialist powers. Neither India nor Pakistan is a colony of the other. To the assertion that East Bengal had a semi-colonial relationship to West Pakistan, against which the Indian army made war, a Marxist would have to reply that Tanganyika was a colony of Hohenzollern Germany; Britain warred against Germany in World War I – did Lenin support Britain against Germany? Or advise the Tanganyikans to invite British control to aid the war against Germany? He supported the right of the Irish to accept German arms – that did not amount to German control of the republican movement. (Because of “concrete reality,” again, Wohlforth.) But Lenin certainly did not urge the Kaiser to send armies to Ireland, which would have meant trading the British yoke for the German, and one cannot conceive of a statement from him, “We Bolsheviks critically support the decision of the Hohenzollern government to send arms to the Irish rebels.” He did not support no matter how critically the unsupportable motives of the German government; he supported the independent and entirely different motives of the Irish rebels, who were so situated that the German “help” was not occupation or control – their struggle remained independent.
In fact Trotsky’s quote above comes down on the opposite side of Wohlforth’s position. Does Trotsky favor the assistance from the subject Indian nation to Britain in its war? He condemns the Indian nationalist leaders for that policy – and he would have condemned the Bengali nationalists’ support to the adventure of conquest by the Indian bourgeoisie.
Fourth point: in the “Conclusions” section of Trotsky’s “An Open Letter to Comrade Burnham” from which Wohlforth tore a quote, stands a paragraph his supporters would do well to ponder. Wohlforth lumps the SL with Shachtman in alleged disregard for principle, for theory, for veering about according to petty-bourgeois impressionism. Trotsky said:
“The politics of a party has a class character. Without a class analysis of the state, the parties and ideological tendencies, it is impossible to arrive at a correct political orientation. The party must condemn as vulgar opportunism the attempt to determine policies in relation to the USSR from incident to incident and independently of the class nature of the Soviet state.”
The WL owes an explanation of why it is necessary to proceed from the class nature of the Soviet state in determining our attitude toward its military moves, yet we stand condemned as reactionary empiricists when we proceed from the class nature of the Indian state!
Wohlforth as Merlin
The obscurantist, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t character of the “dialectic” developed by Stalin and Mao and adopted by Healy and Wohlforth could not possibly be illustrated more clearly than by the following syllogism, all parts of which are taken directly from his “Spartacist Rediscovers Shachtman.” 1) The IC openly offered “critical support” to the military move of the Indian bourgeois government. 2) The SL urged revolutionary defeatism on both asides. 3) The SL policy is abstentionism, i.e., the SL not take a stand. 4)”Not taking a stand means standing with the bourgeoisie.” 5) Therefore the SL stood with the bourgeoisie.
And so support of the bourgeoisie becomes support of the working class; the call to workers to practice revolutionary defeatism becomes support of the bourgeoisie. Even Kautsky, who had to mislead a more sophisticated audience, never sank to an argument so stupid and patently illogical.
All the lies, all the twisted logic and the distortion of Trotskyist history, theory and tradition, all the slanders about “Shachtmanism” peddled to his supporters, will not be enough to wash the bloody disgrace from Wohlforth’s and Healy’s hands. They deliberately turned a section of the workers movement, raw uneducated would-be communists, into recruiting agents for a bourgeois army. The degenerated Second and Third Internationals sold out for far higher stakes; Healy/Wohlforth’s betrayal will not win them janitors’ jobs, much less cabinet posts.