CW: A really shitty rant our central committee couldn’t agree on the contents of.
Earlier in Worker’s Spatula’s history, before we had intervened so much in the internet left that we became known personalities, even if nobody but the ISO dare speak our name in their publications, people were unsure what the point of Worker’s Spatula was. Not just in terms of the project’s political role, which even we are often unsure of, being too fixated on the Process (SWT), but also in terms of what we stood for in terms of Marxist theory.
People who read us would wonder, how much of what we say is satire, how much is genuine? On one forum, a person once even asked something to the effect of “do you think they’re making fun of communists from the inside or the outside?” and was responded to with something to the effect of “it must be the inside, who else could be this fanatically angry about Trotsky?”
Well internet, we are indeed angry about Trotsky. We’re angry because when he got hit with the ice axe, he didn’t die, but rather lived on in his formal and essential followers’ “praxis”.
While formal Trotskyism is thankfully retreating even from the imperialist centres which are its historical home, there are still some Trots who can continue to recruit. This fact is deeply offensive and must spur us to action. There must be no Trots. Trots? Down with them!
What do we want? Not Trots!
When do we want them? We do not want them at any time.
Furthermore, even if all of these scoundrels gave up on the cult of Trotsky, there are many so-called “Marxist-Leninists” who are carrying on his work in essence. This relates to a piece by a Maoist friend, in which he attempts to draw a line of demarcation between us and himself on the question of how to approach Trotskyism…
1) Our friends, the Maoists
While, elhamdulillah, this page is run by “Hoxhaites”, we none the less remain on good terms with many Maoists, both Gonzaloites/MLMs and those who hold what appear to be anti-revisionist positions (including against the Dengites) but who claim to uphold Marxism-Leninism and “Mao Zedong Thought”.
Anyone who has been seriously following us knows that among these is known friend of the page J. Moufawad-Paul, who is rightly something of a celebrity theorist among Anglo anti-revisionists, and thanks to his contribution to Abstrakt, among Turkish anti-revisionists as well. In addition to his extremely valuable interventions on Marxist theory in general, some of the most critical and theoretically serious of contemporary Maoists, he has also penned a polemic in defence of his own ideology directed against the Trotskyites. While it should go without saying that everyone at Worker’s Spatula has disagreements with the text, we wish to be very precise in where we agree and where we disagree, and further, we do encourage interested readers to actually read it, unlike the usual left internet practice of reading nothing and then chastising anarchists for “lacking theory”, so that we can be clear on what precisely our dividing lines are. Of main relevance to the sort of interventions to which the Spatula is committed, JMP refers to:
“the older question of “Leninism or Trotskyism?” asked by anti-revisionists or rugged orthodox Stalinists. The latter was a question that was often asked in bad faith because it began by presupposing that, true to the Stalinist narrative of Trotsky’s expulsion from the Soviet Union, Trotsky was an arch anti-Leninist, a “wrecker”, and possibly even an agent for imperialist reactionaries.”
JMP is not, he would admit, representative of all Maoists when he speaks of the Marxist-Leninist tradition as having been fundamentally mistaken when…
In those days it was enough to call Trotskyists “revisionists”––or worse, “social fascists” and “wreckers”––and then attempt to ignore them… except when their more orthodox adherents showed up at an event they hadn’t helped organize to chastise everyone for being fake communists. [–p.3]
That is, he writes this knowing full well that most Maoists relish attacking Trotskyites in exactly the same terms as all other “Stalinists”, as wreckers and frauds and objective agents of the enemy, etc. And JMP has shown in theory and in practice that he draws a clear line of demarcation between people like us on the one hand, and the Trots on other (whom he does not view as a sincere revolutionary movement, even lauding the leftcoms above them!). In spite of strong formal disagreements (his need to claim that Trotsky personally was being “honest”, our attacks on Trotsky as a “rhetorical swamp”, etc.), JMP seems to essentially agree with us that “Trotskyism” is a revolutionary “dead end”. Somehow, history has always prevented Trotskyism from even accidentally finding itself as much on the front lines of revolution (that it claims to aspire to) as almost any other trend (including trends that we and JMP would identify as “revisionist”, as well as trends which have never even claimed to be Marxist). And yet its followers persist, precisely as JMP identifies, not because it is a critical response to a “dogmatic” “Stalinism”, but because it is a cult.
But JMP is making a crucial point in attempting to distance himself from a reflexive “anti-Trotskyism”, which he explicates for us on the very next page of his own polemic (which again we implore people to read as a starting point for the delineation between the anti-revisionist critiques of the Soviet Union and the Trotskyite cult masquerading as criticism, in spite of our own disagreements):
The eventual behavour of a degenerated RCP-USA in the RIM proves that Maoists can also be wreckers. These are charges that can be made of communists in every Marxist tradition
Definitely, we cannot pretend that a formal non-Trotskyism means one is a sincere revolutionary, or that formal Trotskyism is automatically more “wrecking” behaviour in 2018 than its absence. There is however, the problem that Trotskyism is the “Marxist tradition” which defines itself in a heritage that, if we do not call it “wrecking”, can most generously be described as “non-revolutionary” (as JMP himself admits).
But, at this juncture, the Trotskyites likely would intervene and ask us how Trotsky was a wrecker. We must answer the questions of why we hate Trotsky and Trotskyism.
2) Why do we hate Trotsky?
First of all, it is extremely important for us to define our terms. Hopefully most people reading this know that when we speak of Trotsky as a “wrecker”, we believe he was wrecking actually-existing socialism. We, like JMP, consider that before the “market socialist” revisionism of the CPC, for example, there was something worth defending in the Chinese revolution that the Chinese masses and the Chinese Communist Party were fighting for, and something despicable and fraudulent in the Chinese Trotskyites’ attempts to split this movement on what were essentially utopian and counter-revolutionary grounds. But who was Trotsky, that Trotskyism should be built around him, in China or anywhere else? We agree with JMP, that Trotsky was ONCE engaged in apparently honest and even heroic revolutionary practice, within the Bolshevik Party, crucially BEFORE Trotskyism as such emerged as a trend (thus the period of Trotsky’s life which Trotskyism lauds is the period to which we anti-revisionists object). Further, of course, even if we appraised Trotsky as being, like Stalin, an honest Leninist to the end in spite of his shortcomings, even this would be too critical an appraisal for Trotsky himself, who unironically and sincerely believed that “Trotsky did nothing wrong”:
In all conscientiousness, I cannot, in the appreciation of the political situation as a whole and of its revolutionary perspectives, accuse myself of any serious errors of judgment. [–“My Life”, p.143]
Who among us would dare speak this way in earnest about ourselves as individuals in public as representatives of a Marxist movement? To hear Trotsky tell it, he made less serious errors than Marx (who every Marxist who has done any reading will certainly accuse of “serious errors of judgment”)! This is not the maturity of a political leader, it is not even the standard of self-criticism that you all hold our semi-joke page to! Lenin understood this well, summarising Trotsky’s delusions of grandeur thus:
“Trotsky is very fond of explaining historical events . . in pompous and sonorous phrases, in a manner flattering to Trotsky”
For more such “gotcha” quotes, any interested reader can peruse many other anti-revisionist pages which have already dedicated a great deal of energy to attacking the Trotskyites. We are hardly the first to publicly attack Trotsky for wanting to be crowned King of the Soviet Union on flimsy theoretical pretexts (as even diverse “anti-Stalinist” Marxists will agree Trotsky’s interventions were sectarian and self-serving rather than revolutionary and critical), or to gather together quotes of both Trotsky and Lenin exposing Trotsky’s narcissism (normal for cult leaders such as himself) in addition to his many errors (more numerous than Stalin’s, and like Enver Hoxha and Salma Hayek, we know Stalin made mistakes, but learn from them as we learn from our entire movement’s errors throughout its history, instead of trying to fashion a pure heritage ex nihilo).
But many people reading Worker’s Spatula are neither familiar nor interested in the full scope of these arguments, in the development of the Marxist-Leninist movement over its history, in the positions and theories of actually existing revolutionary organisations today. What they want to know, time and again, in the simplest language, is “why do you hate Trotsky so much?”. Surely we do not find anything wrong with movement-internal criticism, even when delivered by flawed figures? Do we detest him merely because we, like the Modern Revisionists, refuse to hear any criticisms of something that we consider to be a real-world manifestation of socialism (no matter its flaws), and attack anyone who dares point these out as “wrecker”? Why then do we not label Kollontai and the Workers’ Opposition “wreckers”? No comrades, there is something else beneath our hatred of Trotsky entirely, and at the risk of offending JMP and others, it is the dreaded anti-revisionism of yesteryear: we think Trotsky was personally counter-revolutionary in much the same way as Khrushchev. Stalin (like Hoxha) was a defiant Marxist-Leninist leader, not an essential theoretician (although we, like Che Guevara, do read him), but we defend such figures precisely in opposition to these groups.
Khurshchev’s perfidious and erroneous views, his treason to the revolutionary camp, are well known, and the many errors made by modern revisionists and anti-revisionists alike must be discussed in detail. But our subject here is Trotsky, and since he was expelled from the Soviet Union, he cannot be accused of surrendering the class struggle from within in the same way as Khrushchev, can he?
This would be a statist revisionism of Marxism, to suppose that the class struggle is personified only and entirely within the socialist state. While the socialist state is a crucial phase of transition, it too must wither away through the very process of revolution. But socialism is necessarily international in content, and the class struggle within socialist states is no less important than it is in the remaining “fully” capitalist world. It is here that Trotsky was able to carry out what we view as wrecking behaviour, in the crucial years when capitalism-imperialism’s child of crisis, fascism, was emerging as a real threat to the class struggle.
[at this point, some old Trot, probably in England, is reading this, sputtering out a fake laugh: “HA! HA! HA! isn’t that RICH? STALINISTS accusing TROTSKY of not being internationalist enough! Trotsky INVENTED internationalism by building a strong movement dedicated to saying nice things about him in ALL the major imperialist countries! Stalin was a nationalist, because not all Februaries Stalinists have supported became Octobers, whereas not a single October we have aimed for has ever stayed stuck at the point of a February, safely remaining in January!”]
It is our contention that Trotsky (“perhaps” knowingly and willingly) aided the fascists in interwar period as his main difference from Stalin. Thus, at the period of Trotskyism’s formation as Trotskyism, even if there had been no Soviet Union to defend, Trotsky was personally invested in disagreeing with the rest of the communist movement (“the Stalinists”, in his arbitrary terminology for anyone who didn’t think he should be king of the world) in such a way that harmed the masses in their struggle against fascism.
“OH TYPICAL STALINIST SLANDER! I SUPPOSE YOU’RE GOING TO QUOTE OLGIN NEXT!”
We very well could do that, Trots. Our movement read and responded to Trotsky and his allegations against the actual international communist movement, which was led by Stalin at the time, and Olgin was not wrong in his general telling of our side of the story. The Trotskyites can attempt to argue with us about Trotsky’s intentions at this or that period, and we admit that Trotsky may have been sincere in one period, but was Trotsky’s assessment of the fight against fascism correct? As Olgin articulates correctly, Trotsky wanted us to “take [social-]fascists at their word” in the name of a united front of “the working class”… yet a broad anti-fascist popular front in diverse is condemned as “social patriotism” as a means of condemning a strategy that… actually does confront and defeat fascism??? Comrades, we have heard this story before, from Bordiga in criticising the “Stalinist” who famously declared Trotskyism “the puttana of fascism”:
“Clearly, it was a double and incompatible historical vision: Gramsci’s clearly anticipated the line of the future Italian anti-fascist bloc, while I opposed it as resolutely as I could.”
…and yet again, Bordiga, for his grievous error, is still only viewed as workerist or ultra-left, and not an agent, as Trotsky was. What was so horrific in the figure of Trotsky that we are railing against him, today? Partially because Bordiga, for his part, was honest. Bordiga also opposed Trotsky as being similarly Leninist to Stalin (and many “Marxist traditions” struggle to delineate Stalin and Trotsky in theoretical terms, because both of their theoretical training was within the same party, led by Lenin), and would have opposed the united front consistently, whereas the Trotskyites supported it in opposition to the “Stalinist” popular front… except when a united front actually took hold, as in France!
The Trotskyites might protest:
“Bordiga left politics for years after you all accused him of ‘Trotskyism’, and his new movement never amounted to enough of a threat for you to vilify him, there’s the difference!”
But those who live in glass houses should not cast stones: in the long term, both Bordiga and Trotsky’s followers ended up being not much of a threat to our enemy, capitalism-imperialism, and its child, fascism. Both are mere wastes of the energy of potential revolutionaries who are pulled into their ranks. But Bordiga also is not accused of having colluded with the Japanese and German fascists, which might go a bit further than our “loyalty” to “bureaucracy” in explaining our animosity towards this particular figure, and our suspicion of his popularity as an “alternative” to “Stalinism” in several countries.
But this dichotomy between “Stalinism” (that is, most of the actual revolutionary history of 20th century Marxism, with all its mistakes) and “Trotskyism” (that is, a reflexive opposition to said history) would remain one of many more arcane theoretical points that only people on pages like Worker’s Spatula care about were it not for the physical construction of a “Trotskyist” movement in the form of the so-called “Fourth International”. Trotsky certainly led this effort, and his followers are proud of him for it, posing him as the equivalent of Lenin founding the Third International in light of the failings of the Second International for doing so. Let us compare the two cases…
3) The so-called “Fourth International” and its disintegration
Why do the Trotskyites want to claim Lenin as theirs, why is he our “point of unity”? Not only because Lenin was a great Marxist theoretician, which he was, but also because his personage was the focal point for a practical, world-changing process. Lenin split the Second International over crucial international dynamics and principle, helping end the barbaric imperialist war that was raging at the time, beating back capitalism and imperialism, and giving birth to the world’s first socialist state.
We would not dare put Stalin in the same position as Lenin. Stalin was the last sincere socialist leader of the Soviet Union, but we do not live our lives for remembering when the Soviet Union was the most progressive country in the world (and part of the reason why Trots who follow us get suddenly outraged when they realise our historical commitments is that our Facebook page is more full of theory and contemporary political work than pictures of Stalin and his beautiful moustache). Yes, what matters is the correct theoretical and practical work of anti-revisionist communists alive today. But the Trotskyites do not view Trotsky as merely “the last sincere Bolshevik leader”. He is a new Lenin in their cultish eyes. But why? What did the Fourth International achieve?
“A whole lot of nothing” might seem a pithy appraisal, but honestly, what the fuck did it achieve? They split from COMINTERN on the grounds that:
- Why doesn’t Stalin like, totally kill Hitler already?
- Why doesn’t Stalin like, totally spread the revolution?
So the Fourth International clearly expected the movement to be judged in terms of its achievements. Dealing with these claims in order, the Trotskyites (but not Trotsky, who was killed by an ice axe) witnessed that it was indeed the Stalin-led Soviet Union and COMINTERN which did the bulk of the fighting which actually brought down all those fascist governments, ringing in a new era of relative peace for Europe, and indeed safeguarding social democratic gains which the Trotskyites would go on to enjoy in most of the countries where they ever “organised” for “revolution”. This is not an unimportant point, we think, both for the historical reference and also for contemporary readers: in the struggle against fascism, the Trotskyites claim that we make too many excuses for COMINTERN’s zig-zags during the period leading up to the defeat of fascism in Europe, and so a particularly clever Trotskyite could point out that whatever crimes Trotsky is accused of in exile, these too could be justified as tactical moves if Trotsky had managed to defeat fascism (which he didn’t, Stalin did that). But, yes, let us suppose Stalin and Trotsky were both trying to defeat fascism: it then obviously follows that Stalin was worse because, although he actually did defeat fascism, he made more or bigger mistakes before doing so, more noticeable because he was actually responsible for international politics and the lives of millions. If we were in the IMT, that’s the “argument” we would make.
Naturally, the fact that the Fourth International built itself out of concerns that Stalin and friends were not going to defeat Hitler meant mass reverse defections when Trotsky’s merry band failed to accomplish a goddamned thing and that sexy hunk of a man, Stalin, did in fact beat Hitler so hard that thousands of Trotskyites were forced to “repent”. But this was not the end of history, and as we now know, the Soviet Union did in fact descend into revisionism (as eventually did all of its former ally states, albeit at different times and in different ways).
Numbers are no indication of superior Marxist theory, and the Soviet Union commanded the greatest number of loyal cadres until its revisionism caused it to abolish itself. Throughout this process, various errors on the part of the Soviet Union caused mass defections in diverse countries (China and Albania and so forth), each with their own errors. And here we get to a crucial point: those that maintained a culture of self-criticism, seeing in themselves a constant need for dialectical development, the “anti-revisionists”, are also the ones who found themselves on the front lines of revolutionary moments. Those who decried (in effect) the whole of 20th century Marxist practice as “Stalinism” remained as uncritical as the modern revisionists, and remained distant from actual revolution.
4) Modern revisionism and “Stalinism”
Did the modern revisionists carry out revolutionary practice? It would be a vulgar reduction to claim that the Soviet Union was a purely counter-revolutionary entity from the whole period from where it descended into revisionism [the editorial staff could not agree on a year for the descent of the party of Lenin as a whole into revisionism, citing various years between 1936 and 1956], but it is certainly fair to say that it had abandoned the Marxist method to a degree that, in the final instance, was to the advantage of counter-revolution (in its own borders and internationally). Today, optimistic appraisals of Cuba’s leadership aside, can we not say that we agree with the Trotskyites that what they call “Stalinism” is what we call “modern revisionism”?
If the Trotskyites themselves were to sincerely unite in struggle with the international revolutionary forces, including the still-fighting anti-revisionists, in the process they would be forced to learn the Marxist-Leninist method of self-criticism and, applying it to Trotsky, they would have to recognise that Trotsky was also a flawed Bolshevik leader like Stalin, but one whose mistakes in practice have been more damaging to the progress of revolution than Stalin or “the Stalinists”. If we were to accept some unity of ortho-Trots and anti-revisionists against all the revisionists, however, there would be a much bigger problem: we agree with what Comrade Lenin said in one of his greatest works, “On the Significance of Militant Materialism”:
“One of the biggest and most dangerous mistakes made by Communists (as generally by revolutionaries who have successfully accomplished the beginning of a great revolution) is the idea that a revolution can be made by revolutionaries alone. On the contrary, to be successful, all serious revolutionary work requires that the idea that revolutionaries are capable of playing the part only of the vanguard of the truly virile and advanced class must be understood and translated into action. A vanguard performs its task as vanguard only when it is able to avoid being isolated from the mass of the people it leads and is able really to lead the whole mass forward. Without an alliance with non-Communists in the most diverse spheres of activity there can be no question of any successful communist construction.”
So even if we were to say that all Trotskyites today are in effect just Marxist-Leninists opposing the revisionist theory espoused by the Chinese party (for example), we do not necessarily feel more affinity with them than we do with all modern revisionists (for example those who followed the Soviet Union or China up to a point when we might not have but are not so blind as to pretend that China is revolutionary and socialist today). Various Marxist and even non-Marxist groups in countries like Palestine, Lebanon, Ireland, Kurdistan, Colombia, etc. may not be genuinely Marxist-Leninist in our eyes, but they are still pushing forward revolution, which no single Trotskyite party in our understanding is really doing (certainly not in practice, and generally speaking most of these post-Trot groups that Ortho-Trots rightly mock don’t even have any particular theoretical edge on the modern revisionists either). While as dialecticians we demand of ourselves a totality of praxis which is revolutionary, as materialists we must begin with the actual practice of revolution.
And let us go to the most extreme example: in Kurdistan, the KCK’s theory is such a revision of Marxism that it no longer even claims to be a form of Marxism at all, but the Kurdish liberation movement allows communists who work with them for the cause of the liberation of their people to make propaganda and agitate among the toiling masses. The fact that new Kurdish cadres are being drawn into Marxist-Leninist organisations through this work alongside people who believe they are too good for Marx is far more important than whether we agree with the Trots that China is not socialist, when obviously it is not.
Here many Trotskyites accuse us of opportunism, or lacking class consciousness, but they would say the same of Marx when he said:
“The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general.”
Or perhaps they would not, but then, will they concoct a Trotskyism which is more popular front-ist even than COMINTERN? Are they going to turn to the “stageism” that they accuse Stalinists of, thereby risking supporting diverse Februaries that might not become new Octobers? HOW BOURGEOIS! HOW PRAGMATIST! HOW STALINIST! HOW… LENINIST?
But Trotskyites often settle on one “prophetic” point: how Trotsky “foresaw” the “possibility” of bureacratisation being the means through which socialist construction might be reversed. But the fact of a new capitalist class being built within the bureaucracy does not of course make the existence of “bureaucracy” the issue: Trots know full well that the class forces which control bureaucracy matters a great deal, and the Ortho-Trots distinguish this in their dealings with the bureaucracy of, for example, trade unions (opposing the trade union bureaucrats who objectively arrest the progress of the workers’ struggle, but seeking bureaucratic positions themselves if it allows them to advance said struggle, but not so far as a February of course).
Knowing anyway that everyone from Stalin to Che to Hoxha to Mao also “foresaw” this issue and this was always a struggle which took places in parties in actually existing socialism, and knowing that most people who have read this far know that this is our stance, why is there still more piece below this? Just to annoy our Trot readers with more jokes at their expense? That would be funny, but no. To convert Trots? That would be great, but no.
Rather, we’re providing historical context so that readers understand that beneath our formal anger at the historical personage of Trotsky, there is an essential sort of figure who Trotsky was. Trotsky was an arch-sectarian and egotist, who thought a movement following him was more important than the movement for the liberation of the masses. Trotsky was a fascist appeaser, who beneath his formal anti-fascism actually sought conciliation with the very social structures which allowed fascism to be born. It is against these trends, and all errors, even those made by our anti-revisionist heroes (and it must be us, the anti-revisionist Marxists who lead the charge in thematising, problematising, theoretising these errors), which we must struggle against.
5) Most of the actual wreckers know that Trotskyism is dead
The fact that almost all Trotskyite groups fall into these errors makes them an easy group to exclude. The fact that even the best and most critical Trotskyite groups end up as nothing more than centres for a weak politics of protest out of a fear of opportunism, and the exceptions tend to abandon Trotskyism, is all the more reason why we must be more vigilant against Trotskyite errors by ostensible Marxist-Leninists.
Now, here some more theoretically aware Trotskyite and anti-Trotskyite individuals and organisations, seeing the direction we’re going with this, may object: surely if we just employ “Trotskyism” as a euphemism for “people we dislike”, aren’t we doing what we accuse Trotskyites of doing when they refer to “Stalinism” as a catch-all for everyone who rejects their own cultish heritage? Probably, lol. Doesn’t that suck?
So no, let’s not do that, as funny as it is. Particularly on the English-language left internet, where the theoretically uninformed “Marxist-Leninists” actually do use “Trotskyism” as a euphemism for “Marxist who disagrees with me”.
Let us instead say this: to all the Marxist-Leninists reading this, who spend your time trying to revise Marxism-Leninism to make China the Soviet Union of today (despite China’s actual historical role against the Soviet Union, even in cases where all of us would agree our criticisms of the latter should be less than those of the former): stop that. You’re not a Trot, but you are doing what Trotsky did in so far as rather than try to revolutionise your social context as part of a broad front of the revolutionary masses against the oppressive and exploiting ruling classes, you are building a revolution on paper and condemning anyone who doesn’t go along with you as a traitor, despite the actual facts in reality.
These are desperate times, and if you are not responding like Lenin did to World War I, by reading Hegel, who are you to call the theoretically serious “revisionists”? If you are not uniting the progressive forces of all poor, oppressed peoples, women and gender oppressed in a struggle against capitalism, imperialism, and the rising fascist tide, while the planet itself is imposing a ticking clock on human liberation, who are you to condemn those who do as “counter-revolutionary”? Don’t be Trotsky. Read everyone, but especially Lenin.
We have written all of this, and provided much more serious further reading, and yet sadly, we know that the overwhelming majority of readers, both Trotskyite and otherwise, will engage with it in the most shallow way, if they even bother to skim any lines of it. We hope, however, that our few theoretically serious regular readers will find something of value in this intervention, taking what they like from it and using it in their own way, or criticising what they find flawed. You know how to be in touch with us.
But if you’re going to fucking criticise us in a non-comradely way, at least have the decency to post it on your own platforms instead of expecting us to use our platforms to host your propaganda.
Workers and oppressed of the world – unite!
Note: When the Trots (who were expecting this piece to focus on certain buzzwords that we won’t name) inevitably come around asking us about their favourite buzzwords in the comments, you can expect some ranting answers to those down there.
↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓
Image expropriated from a Twitter account named “Leon Trotsky”.
Did you enjoy this piece, or anything else on Worker’s Spatula? Then consider donating as little as one imperialist Yankee dollar a month to supporting our work!