A Rejoinder

— John Marot

PAUL LE BLANC WOULD like to attribute the victory of Stalinism fully to the complexities of the objective situation, and excuse virtually the entire leadership of the Left Opposition in Russia for their faulty analysis of them. But Le Blanc overlooks the reasoning of the so-called "capitulators" who broke with "modern Trotskyism as we know it."

In a nutshell, Trotsky reasoned that only industrialization and collectivization would increase the social weight of the working class, ward off the danger of capitalist restoration, and secure a material basis for socialism. Trotsky originated this view in the early twenties, long before the rise of Le Blanc’s "modern Trotskyism" and before the rise of Stalinism to power. He continued to hold on to it to the end of his days. It would form the basis of his degenerated workers’ state theory. This view is part of the total "modern" Trotskyist conception.

The Trotskyist leadership in Russia time and again called Trotsky’s attention to his analysis and key admission that the foundations of socialism were being established. True, Trotsky didn’t expect Stalin to be establishing them, causing some puzzled and anguished Trotskyists to hold out longer than others. But in the end this was an incidental issue. The political was not personal.

The Trotskyists repeatedly argued with the hold-outs, including Trotsky, that since ultimate theoretical differences (the action of building "socialism in one country" vs. the theory of "permanent revolution") could always be ironed out later, since there was now no practical reason to stand apart from Stalin, and since Trotskyists were not doctrinaires, then the only politically judicious course of action to take was to join Stalin.

That is why the Trotskyist leaders buried their opposition to Stalinism. They justified their break with Trotsky by invoking Trotsky’s analysis which, they believed, rightly, legitimized support for Stalin. It was they who accused Trotsky of betraying Trotskyism when their leader did not rally to Stalin.

Isaac Deutscher’s belief, cited by Le Blanc, that the "Opposition could take no step to meet the ruling faction half-way" flies in the face of all available evidence. On the contrary, Tony Cliff shows, ordinary facts to hand, how the Trotskyist opposition in Russia took all the steps to meet Stalin’s faction all the way. Trotsky’s analysis made it possible for Trotskyists to mobilize in defense of Stalinism. They supported the wrong side in the class struggle.

Le Blanc lets Trotsky off the hook by implying that Trotsky’s analysis, however inadequate, was the only one available at the time. He pays no attention to the contemporaneous "Democratic Centralist" current’s analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a new exploiting class. This competing theory, developed by Sapronov and Smirnov, might well be sociologically wrong according to orthodox Trotskyists like Le Blanc, it might be terribly flawed in other respects—but politically it placed this tendency squarely against the Trotskyists, including Trotsky, and on the side of the peasants and workers. Isn’t this alone sufficient to recommend this theory over Trotskys?

But was it really necessary to wait until 1937, as Le Blanc asserts, just to recognize the elementary class antagonism so evident in the massive worker-peasant resistance to the regime erupting in 1927 and beyond? Was the situation so complex and so fluid that it was impossible to figure out which side to be on?

Workers and peasants, relying on a garden variety empiricism, came to the conclusion then that this was no workers’ state. They resisted Stalin’s savage policies of repression and most fearful exploitation. Had they had their democratic way, the policies of collectivization and industrialization would have been reversed.

For Sapronov, Smirnov and their adherents, the policies of collectivization and industrialization indelibly fixed the murderously anti-working class character of the Stalinist regime. This did not express "impatience with historical reality and 20/20 hindsight" as Le Blanc says, it expressed a settling of accounts with the Trotskyists, a coming to terms with the novel contemporary reality of Stalin’s ruthless policies, and a bold desire immediately to draw equally novel political conclusions.

The Trotskyist "opposition" in Russia offered no leadership to the masses who rose spontaneously to do battle with Stalinism because Trotsky’s theory, so long as it was adhered to, required the defeat of that struggle. As founder, leader and theoretician of the Trotskyist tendency, Trotsky must bear responsibility, however minimal, for contributing his part to the victory of Stalinism.

I did not reach this somber conclusion, as Le Blanc would have the reader believe, from a prejudicial desire unfairly to tax "the power and continuing relevance of Trotskyism," I reached it from a reasoned interpretation of the facts.

ATC 65, November-December 1996