Introduction to the
Marxist Polemic Series
At the 1938 founding conference of the Socialist Workers Party, on the heels of successfully winning a large section of the reformist Socialist Party’s membership, and a majority of it’s youth, to revolutionary Trotskyism, James P. Cannon explained that
“ALL THE EXPERIENCE of the class struggle on a world scale, and especially the experience of the past twenty years, teaches one lesson above all others, a lesson summed up in a single proposition: The most important problem of the working class is the problem of the party. Success or failure in this domain spells the difference between victory or defeat every time. The struggle for the party, the unceasing effort to construct the new political organization of the vanguard on the ruins of the old one, concentrates within itself the most vital and progressive elements of the class struggle as a whole….
“The reconstruction of the revolutionary labor movement in the form of a political party is not a simple process. In the midst of unprecedented difficulties, complications and contradictions the work goes ahead, like all social movements, in zig-zag fashion. The new movement takes shape through a series of splits and fusions which must appear like a Chinese puzzle to the superficial observer. But how could it be otherwise? The frightful disintegration of the old movements, on a background of world-wide social upheaval, disoriented and scattered the revolutionary militants in all directions. They could not find their way together, and draw the same basic conclusions, in a day.
“The New Party is Founded” (1938)
In the same speech Cannon, a historical leader of US Trotskyism, also commented on the “anti-sectarian” sectarians of his day. As today, the small Trotskyist movement was mocked for it’s focus on the struggle for ideological and programmatic clarity within the far left of the labor movement. Counterposed to this was a fake Potemkin Village “orientation to the masses.” The “anti-sectarians” who denounced Trotskyists as “primarily a circle of isolated theorists and hairsplitters” Cannon characterized as “centrists who manoeuvre all the time with non-existent ‘mass movements’ in a vacuum…” While revolutionaries rely on a politically conscious working class allied with all the exploited and oppressed masses, as the only force capable of capitalism’s overthrow on a world scale, and cannot seek to act as a substitute, Cannon explained that “The road to the masses lies through the vanguard and not over its head.” (The History of American Trotskyism)
On the contrary, the real sectarians (and generally, opportunists as well) are those tendencies which try to fool their audience by stringently refusing to ever mention or recognize the existence of all others groups in their publications, or by putting bureaucratic pressure on their ranks and periphery to prevent them from freely engaging with militants in other organizations and investigating their literature. But the victory of correct politics versus incorrect ones can only triumph under circumstances of open and honest debate by everyone. Those organizations which abstain from, or try to pressure their ranks and periphery against participating in, such exchanges are proclaiming their lack of confidence in their politics and well as their ranks and peripheries. In turn those organizations deserve no confidence, by either their ranks and peripheries, or the working class as a whole.
The Marxist Polemics series is produced by Revolutionary Regroupment and each number will be devoted to a specific political theme. Our target audience for this series are the subjectively revolutionary groups and militants around the world that “due to the disintegration of the old movements” are at the present “disoriented and scattered” in “all directions.”
It is also hoped that these documents succeed in helping to illuminate and introduce key questions for those who are newly interested in revolutionary politics. A serious investigation of the currently existing organizations is crucial in deciding which group to help build, or for that matter remain in. As has been frequently stated by many, one can waste many years of ones life without doing so.
The different political tendencies that will be critiqued will not be limited to or always focused on the largest currently in existence. Many smaller groups internationally are younger and therefore less bureaucratized and stuck to the revisionist traditions and orthodoxies of the older groups they split from. Smaller socialist tendencies today frequently have a more committed and theoretically developed rank and file (and in circumstances, depending on their histories, leadership as well) than larger organizations. They will therefore likely play a highly important role in the initial stages of building a revolutionary party.
In response to those who argued that the German Trotskyists paid insufficient attention to the Communist Party with a mass membership relative to a smaller group, Leon Trotsky responded
“It might perhaps appear strange that we should devote comparatively so large a labor to such a small organization. But the gist of the matter lies in the fact that the question revolving around the SAP is much greater than the SAP itself. Involved here, in the last analysis, is the question of correct policy towards the centrist tendencies that now play with all the colors of the rainbow within the field of the working-class movement. The conservative centrist apparatuses inherited from the past must be prevented from checking the revolutionary development of the proletarian vanguard; that is the task!”
“Centrist Alchemy or Marxism” (1935)
Pabloites and other objectivist opportunists usually rely on the organic development of the historical process to solve the problem of revolutionary regroupment (and for that matter the crisis of revolutionary leadership itself). For them any existence of a popular mass movement, whatever it’s leadership and politics may be, in itself expresses the solution to that problem. All those who do not participate in their uncritical tailing and cheerleading but seek to expose the misleaders are denounced for being ultra-left and “hopeless sectarians”.
While frequently bemoaning the scattering of ostensibly revolutionary forces, the underlying problem of political confusion and disorientation does not interest them. They expect the non-revolutionary leaderships of the mass movement of the moment to be forced by the pressure of events to develop into a “blunted instrument” for socialism, whatever their initial and/or real intentions, much less any political confusion or disorientation on the part of others. The history of working class defeats (which include many potentially revolutionary situations) that inevitably ensued under these misleaderships, from Spain to Chile to the Soviet Bloc are usually formally acknowledged, but their lessons are repeatedly ignored for the struggles of the day. This lays the groundwork for those defeats repetition..
Today that attitude is best expressed by the deep illusions of many claiming to be Marxists, in the capacity of Hugo Chavez to lead Venezuela in a socialist direction. Such a position is not only in conflict with Marxism’s understanding of the need for revolutionary leadership and program, but also it’s understanding on the impossibility of reforming the capitalist state, and opposition to class collaboration. It also presupposes, explicitly or implicitly, a similar reformist strategy internationally.
Other tendencies either explicitly have no interest in revolutionary regroupment or unconsciously sabotage all such opportunities. The numerically significant recruitment of experienced comrades with strong wills poses a potential challenge to the authoritarian leaders ability to control of their sects. Their sectarian attitude is not a reflection of any kind of sincere youthful or rigid ultra-leftism but bureaucratic fear. The existence of their organization becomes transformed into an end in itself and for themselves rather than a vehicle for building a revolutionary leadership of the masses. The leaderships of such groups have usually long ceased believing in the formal politics and aims they profess, them playing essentially the same role as the “Sunday Socialism” of the Second International, masking the reality of their true role and positions. They prefer their groups stay small, making them easier to control.
In contrast Trotsky’s attitude was neither objectivist nor sectarian
“The crisis of the proletarian leadership cannot, of course, be overcome by means of an abstract formula. It is a question of an extremely humdrum process. But not of a purely “historical” process, that is, of the objective premises of conscious activity, but of an uninterrupted chain of ideological, political and organizational measures for the purpose of fusing together the best, most conscious elements of the world proletariat beneath a spotless banner, elements whose number and self-confidence must be constantly strengthened, whose connections with wider sections of the proletariat must be developed and deepened – in a word: to restore to the proletariat, under new and highly difficult and onerous conditions, his historical leadership.
“Rosa Luxemburg and the Fourth International” (1935)
The 1961 international resolution of the British Socialist Labour League, which was leading the International Committee at the time, argued that
“The Fourth International as a world organization founded by Trotsky in 1938 no longer exists. It has been destroyed by Pabloism.”
“The World Prospect for Socialism”, Labour Review (Winter 1961), page 127
While the IC subsequently changed and dishonestly whitewashed this position in the course of it’s political degeneration, the SLL’s document played an important role in the formation of the Revolutionary Tendency inside the Socialist Workers Party.
In a key factional document against the SWP’s turn to Pabloism, the RT stated
“For the past fifteen years the movement founded by Leon Trotsky has been rent by a profound theoretical, political, and organizational crisis. The surface manifestation of this crisis has been the disappearance of the Fourth International as a meaningful structure. The movement has consequently been reduced to a large number of grouplets, nominally arrayed into three tendencies: the “International Committee,” “International Secretariat (Pablo),” and “International Secretariat (Posadas). Superficial politicians hope to conjure the crisis away through an organizational formula—”unity” of all those grouplets willing to unite around a common-denominator program. This proposal obscures, and indeed aggravates, the fundamental political and theoretical causes of the crisis.
If the “the disintegration of the old movements… disoriented and scattered the revolutionary militants in all directions” made the tasks of Trotskyists difficult and complex in 1938, the disintegration of the Fourth International into 3 international tendencies, in a situation of the continuation of the pre-existing scattering and confusion, made it substantially more difficult and complex in 1963. Today there exists not only 3 international organizations claiming to be Trotskyist but many. Therefore the organizational conclusions drawn by the RT retain their validity today,
“The task of the international revolutionary-Marxist movement today is to re-establish its own real existence. To speak of the “conquest of the masses” as a general guideline internationally is a qualitative overstatement. The tasks before most Trotskyist sections and groups today flow from the need for political clarification in the struggle against revisionism, in the context of a level of work of a generally propagandistic and preparatory nature.”
To many activists the more narrow activity imposed by the situation does not, understandably, seem attractive. Nonetheless this crucial preparatory work today is a precondition for successfully leading mass struggles tomorrow. In such periods, Trotsky argued
“A revolutionary tendency cannot score stormy victories at a time when the proletariat as a whole is suffering the greatest defeats. But this is no justification for letting one’s hands hang. Precisely in the periods of revolutionary ebb tide are cadres formed and tempered which will later be called upon to lead the masses in the new assault.”
“It is Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew” (1933)
Revolutionary Regroupment is determined to neither bow down before the difficulty of the situation, nor make a permanent virtue of it as others before have. As previously stated, we
“remain convinced of the necessity and possibility of overthrowing capitalist society, but that possibility can only be achieved through regrouping the subjective revolutionaries around the world on a sound programmatic basis to rebuild the Fourth International.”