left in form right in essence

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  Left in Form, Right in Essence -A Critique of Contemporary Trotskyism (1973)

Carl Davidson

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Trotskyism: A new debate over old issues

"Nixon had one additional ally to set against this dramatic example of the international united front against U.S. imperialism – almost the entire Trotskyist movement.

The Trotskyists, too, were opposed to demanding that Nixon sign the treaty, urged that the agreement be scrapped and claimed that it would violate the “right of self-determination” of South Vietnam. They organized opposition to the demand within the U.S. antiwar movement, carried article after article in their press indicating that the treaty was a “sellout” and “betrayal” of Vietnam’s national rights and threatened to organize separate protests if the demand was made the principal slogan of the planned mass mobilizations in January."

Two lines on “permanent revolution”

""This view was reactionary on two counts. First, it proposed a subordinate alliance with a class bound to betray even its own democratic aims. Second, it favored this alliance with the liberals as opposed to an alliance with the peasantry, which the Mensheviks tended to view as a conservative force and the base of reaction.

Trotsky’s view, which Lenin designated “absurdly left,” was summed up by its formulator in his essay, The Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution,"

Socialism in one country

"By ignoring the changed objective conditions, Trotsky arrived at the opposite conclusion: “The organic interdependence of the several countries, developing toward an international division of labor, excludes the possibility of building socialism in one country. This means that the Marxist doctrine, which posits that the socialist revolution can begin only on a national basis, while the building of socialism in one country is impossible, has been rendered doubly and trebly true, all the more so now, in the modern epoch ...”

The two-stage revolution

""Trotsky considered the “bloc of four classes” counter-revolutionary and a manifestation of “Menshevism” imposed in China by Stalin. In his view the struggle had to be spearheaded against the bourgeoisie as a whole. At the same time, he played down or dismissed entirely the feudal and imperialist targets of the revolution.""

The national liberation struggle

“The strength of Marxism,” writes Leon Trotsky in The Third International After Lenin, “lies in its ability to foretell.”Trotsky made the remark in a 1928 commentary on the Chinese revolution. In the same work he also made a number of predictions which, if he is measured by his own standard, place him considerably outside and opposed to the camp of those who deserve to be called Marxists.

Trotskyism and China today

In China’s socialist construction the theoretical link between Trotsky and Liu Shao-chi can be seen in the “theory of productive forces” put forth by both figures.

United front against fascism

"Just as in their views on the national united front in the colonial countries, the Trotskyist line on the world scale makes no distinctions in the enemy camp, between enemies in general and particular or principal enemies at various times and stages. As a result, the revolutionary forces are left more isolated from both strategic and tactical allies, however temporary and wavering they may be.

Finally, the Trotskyists blur the distinction between the revisionist countries and the socialist countries and on most questions side with the former. For instance, in 1963 the SWP denounced Albania as one of the most despicable Stalinized regimes in Europe and added that “the internal regime of communist Yugoslavia is much freer.”

Origins of U.S. Trotskyism

The Trotskyists have been known – both historically and in the present period – as “wreckers and splitters” of the people’s organizations and movements.

While they vociferously deny the charge, an examination of their history demonstrates that they have earned it. The Trotskyists themselves even celebrate their wrecking and splitting tactics as high points in their theoretical development.

National and class struggle

""the CP saw the struggle for full democratic rights for black people throughout the country as part and parcel of the class struggle and a key component of the struggle against opportunism. As a result the CP made great gains in this area of work, as well as many worthy contributions to the struggle against national oppression in the U.S.

The Trotskyists have attacked this line as “imposed by orders from Moscow” and distorted it by claiming that the CP demanded a separate Black state (rather than the right of self- determination) without regard to the aspirations of the Black masses.""

The woman question

The Trotskyist stand on the woman question, like their approach to politics in general, is “left” in form and right in essence.

The views on the women’s struggle of the two major Trotskyist groupings in the U.S. – the Socialist Workers party (SWP) and the Workers League – also express the vacillating character of their movement in tailing after the spontaneity of the masses.

Reform or revolution?

The Trotskyists in this country are relatively well known for their ultra-left opposition to the strategy of revolution by stages in the colonial countries.

To the anti-imperialist united front, aimed at forming a transitional new democratic state and led by the proletariat, they counterpose the line of immediate transition to the proletarian dictatorship.

The vanguard party

Trotsky began his career as a disrupter of the revolutionary movement during a struggle with Lenin over the character of the proletarian vanguard party.

Today his followers have – in one form or another – continued this role of attacking Leninist parties wherever they actually exist by attempting to substitute petty bourgeois ideas on organization in their place.