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Albert Gates

The Relevance of Marxism

In Reply to Henry Judd’s Article

(January 1950)

From New International, Vol. XVI No. 1, January⏻February 1950, pp. 32–48. [1]
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“... what is our theory, but merely the tools of our action. These tools are our Marxist theory because up to today we have not found better tools. A worker is not fantastic about tools – if they are the best tools he can get he is careful with them; he does not abandon them or demand fantastic non-existent tools.” – Leon Trotsky.

In August 1949 The New International published an article by Henry Judd entitled The Relevance of Trotskyism, the essence of which is that the ideas of Trotsky have no relevance to the problems and needs of the world socialist movement of today. Proceeding from the undeniable premise that there is a crisis in the socialist movement, Judd attributes to the theoretical conceptions of Marxism the principal cause for that crisis and asserts that the “traditional conceptions of Marxism” are today invalid. He then sets himself “the modest [!] task of introducing the subject and indicating some of the broad problems that must be considered.” But what follows is an illogical, contradictory and thoughtless essay.

The crisis of Marxism, caused principally by the nationalist degeneration of international social democracy, the Russian Revolution and the Communist International, is far advanced. The process has been a long one, and the downward trend has not yet been turned in the opposite direction. Consider for the moment that for the first time since the formation of the Second International in 1884, no powerful influential and significant world socialist organization exists. At most one finds only scattered groups throughout the world, each of them trying in its own way to reconstruct the Marxist movement. This is the truth! To deny this, or to affirm the contrary, would be sheer self-deception calculated to produce only confusion and harm in the workers’ movement.

The objective conditions for socialism have been long over-ripe; the subjective prerequisites for a decisive social change are, however, absent. As a consequence, the social crisis assumes forms of the degeneration about which Marx and Engels warned repeatedly. In the absence of a powerful socialist movement, the degeneration of society, both in its capitalist and Stalinist forms, creates new political problems whose solution demands a continuous application of intelligence, armed with a revolutionary theory. This is, in effect, a task imposed upon all revolutionary socialist organizations, those that are fully conscious of the problems and those that remain conservatively hardened against any changes.

Since the human mentality is the most conservative element in society (a factor often noted abstractly by Marxists but seldom remembered in the elaboration of their programs), the adaptation of movements and individuals to changing objective conditions is always difficult. Where the need for change and re-adaptation is understood and accepted (for example, the ISL), this need is met thoughtfully and carefully. Even those who remain most rooted in old ideas or out-lived conceptions change their views and programs. But in the latter case, this is accomplished not consciously but rather blindly and incompletely under the persistent pressure of objective events and not always honestly. The tendency to adhere to old ideas, good or bad, is far stronger than the will to change.

The Need for a Sweeping Change

In the article by Judd we are told that a sweeping change is needed in the theoretical basis for the socialist movement and a new program designed that will coincide with the real problem of our epoch. The world has changed so fundamentally in the past 25 years and produced so many new problems for the socialist movement that the old program of Trotskyism and Marxism must be replaced. But Judd offers no alternatives yet. He has merely set himself “the modest task of introducing the subject and indicating some of the broad problems that must be considered,” because of his “belief that it is high time to begin such a reconsideration, and partly by the fact that certain efforts in this direction have already been made with unfortunately disastrous results.” This should have been a warning to Judd. But alas, he did not heed it.

Unfortunately, the modest task which Judd sets for himself of “introducing the subject and indicating some of the broad problems” is not enough by far, because it has already been introduced and indicated many times before and more concretely by other critics of Marxism. Judd’s contribution, however, the product of a belated “awakening,” has also been made with disastrous results. Moreover, the manner in which Judd has opened this discussion is a highly questionable one. He has proposed that the socialist movement abandon its theoretical program in order that a new program may be elaborated without the inhibiting influence of old theories and practices. In this way he avoids a responsibility that is unquestionably his: to offer in place of the old, either a new program, indications of a new program, or concrete alternative propositions. Judd offers nothing at all! He merely says:

There must be a conscious sense of crisis and open recognition that the past, in terms of program, approach and attitude, has failed and collapsed. There must be a collective will among the leaders of progressive Marxism to grapple with new problems, and to experiment freely, even in an empiric sense.

Now, then, since the process of rejection of ideas is accompanied by a simultaneous emergence of substitute or alternate conceptions, it is obvious that such rejections do not take place in a vacuum. Judd suspects that this is true for in the very beginning of his article he demands of other critics, whom he unjustifiably places in a category different from himself, a sense of responsibility.

If politics is the struggle of “alternative programs” [he writes] it is easy to see how hopelessly afield are these people [the critics of Trotsky, Lenin and Bolshevism] who search the past and strain after flaws and mistakes. Explicitly or by indirection, after they have pounced upon the historical fault of Marxism, or the Russian Revolution, they suggest what the correct way should have been. Be it classical Social Democracy, or Menshevism – its Russian expression – or even the road of liberalism – it is clear that these critics cannot evade the responsibility of an “alternative program.”

“If these critics who ‘pounce upon the historical fault of Marxism’ ... cannot evade the responsibility of an ‘alternative program’,” neither can Judd. But that is precisely what he has done. Oblivious to what he has just written, Judd proceeds to justify his own evasion of responsibility. In the discursive paragraph following his annihilating attack on other critics, Judd becomes both the defender and attacker of revolutionary socialists and “progressive Marxists.” He adds:

In so far as revolutionary socialists [we assume he means the Independent Socialist League, since no others are indicated] have concerned themselves with new problems of theory and practice since 1939 (and it must be admitted that this concern is at its lowest ebb since the beginning of Marxism), their efforts have been directed toward the creation of a new program, within the broad framework of Marxist and socialist principles. [We are not sure yet whether this is good or bad, since the author has it both ways in his article.]

Not too much progress has been made, it must be admitted, but those who raise the demand that the critics of orthodox Marxism must produce their program [Judd is evidently talking about himself], both in broad outline and detail, fail to understand the actual process by which alternative programs are worked out at crucial moments in the history of Marxism.

Here, then, is a key to Judd’s position, and there are several questions involved which supply an answer to what it is he wants. It is obvious that in an effort to excuse himself from the responsibility he demands of others, he points to the experience of the ISL. But he is not on safe ground there.

How the World Has Changed

In the first place, the ISL never rejected the theories of Marxism and never set itself the task of writing a new generalized or basic program that should serve for a new movement of socialism. It considers the basic theories of Marxism, extended and revised by the successive generations of Marxian theoreticians, to be correct. What it did was to apply the critical and revolutionary methods of Marxist theory to some of the basic problems of our time, most strikingly, too, in relation to the character of the Russian state and the meaning of Stalinism, and during the war to the national question and the struggle for democracy. When, during the great struggle with the Cannonite SWP and Trotsky over the “Russian question” and the war, comrades of the ISL, in rejecting the theory of the “workers’ state” and the “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union,” did not yet have an alternative theory, they at least indicated their thoughts and the direction in which they were moving. This dispute, while it concerned fundamental conceptions of Marxian theory, was within the orbit of generalized socialist doctrine, not out of it, nor against such doctrine. So far as the national question is concerned, there too, what was involved was the resurrection and modernization of a series of theoretical conceptions which had receded into the background of the socialist struggle following the first World War.

Is this what Judd is trying to do? Let us see. Most critics of Marxism, Leninism, Bolshevism, or Trotskyism, state not only what they reject in them, but what it is they are for. Thus it is relatively easy to debate with them, to reject or accept their criticisms. One cannot do the same with Judd. To grasp his ideas is like trying to hold on to loose jello in a hot sun. He writes:

... within the past 25 years our whole world has so changed, from every conceivable point of view, social, cultural, psychologic, etc., that the relevance of the past, its criteria, examples, and illustrations, has dropped catastrophically. Is this not a bald fact? The marking-off point has been, of course, the Second World War and its aftermath, during which the most traditional conceptions of Marxism, expressed at that moment in the theories and program of Trotskyism, were found to be lacking.

We repeat: “... the most traditional conceptions of Marxism ... were found lacking.” We see that it is not really a question of the “relevance of Trotskyism” at all, it is a question of relevance of Marxism! Why then did not Judd proceed with the source of our inadequacies, namely Marx himself? No matter. Let us get on.

Has our world changed drastically within the past 25 years? Undoubtedly. Has it changed socially? No doubt. Culturally? That also. And psychologically? Granted. It would follow that all of this is a bald fact! Now, then, what does it all mean? Concretely, in what ways has the world changed socially, culturally and psychologically to invalidate the program of Marxism? But since politics is always concrete, our friend swiftly leaves us at this point with a parting remark: “... the relevance of the past, its criteria, examples, and illustrations, has dropped catastrophically.”

Nothing at all remains for us even as a starting point: no theory, no practice, no criteria, no examples, no illustrations. This, mind you, is the empiric sense of reality! This is scientific! This is objective! We have blackened out a part (what part?) of history and now we can begin anew. But where shall we begin? You must have patience. You must understand that these things require time. You must understand “the actual process by which alternative programs are worked out at crucial moments in the history of Marxism. ... There must be a conscious sense of crisis ... There must be a collective will ... grapple with new problems ... experiment freely ... even in an empiric sense.” And if you insist upon asking Judd, what is different socially, culturally, psychologically in the world today (and we think we know at least some of the things that are different) you will get the following answer: “[the] creation of a new program is a painful, tedious and difficult process ... One has to make one’s way past those who repeat the past and are smugly content with this ...

What Marxists Have Done

It is a fact that every epoch in capitalist development has ushered in new problems, demanding new criteria, reducing, though not obliterating, the significance, the examples and illustrations of the past. For revolutionary Marxists, each challenge of the changing epochs, brought with it a corresponding effort to test their theories and to attune them to the changing times. Marx and Engels did not leave a dogma. They furnished the working class with a scientifically grounded theory of capitalist development, a program for the struggle for socialism and a weapon of criticism. Their starting point was a penetrating and annihilating criticism of capitalism and an analysis of the inevitable collapse of its economy which would in turn produce the endless crisis of the social order. Socialism was an objective necessity to save mankind. And they provided a general program to meet the requirements of a class struggle produced by capitalist class society. Theirs, then, was the first program of scientific socialism which helped more than anything else to create the modern working-class movement.

Obviously, much of what Marx and Engels wrote for the struggles of the latter half of the 19th century could hardly apply to the 20th, but the essential theories which they developed have been proved correct again and again during the struggles of this century. It would be impertinent to our readers to belabor a point so obvious. But we have to ask Judd: what traditional conceptions of Marxism are found lacking today? Is it its analysis of capitalism and its critique? Its theory of the state? The nature of the class struggle and the character of the fight for socialism? No answers! So we really do not know what Judd has reference to on that score and we do not know what to argue against specifically.

The many generations of Marxists have experienced their own struggles over theory and program. In rejecting revisionism they verified the Marxian view of the development of capitalism from its national to its imperialist stage. When the Second International, which contributed so much to the popularization of the Marxian program and organized the modern proletariat for the first time, succumbed to the pressures of the greatest crisis then known to capitalism, World War I, the Marxian movement was revived once more by re-evaluation, alteration and extension of its main ideas. The same process was inevitably induced by the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the emergence of Stalinism. Trotsky alone initiated the struggle in defense of Marxism and revolutionary internationalism. His contributions to the theory of socialist construction and the nature of Stalinism, despite the final failure of the latter, provided the key for a further development of Marxian doctrine and are of enormous and lasting importance.

The enrichment of Marxian theory has been unavoidable, consistent and continuous. The successive generations made their contribution, not by rejecting the basic Marxian conceptions, but by utilizing their rich content. Therefore all the numerous additions and modifications of the Marxian theory and program, find a connecting thread, indicating the continuity and relatedness of its revolutionary ideas. 1905 did not repeat identically the experiences of the Paris Commune; 1917 did not repeat identically the experience of 1905. Nor will the future repeat identically the experiences of yesterday. Each new period will bring with it a new series of factors, new problems to solve and will require new ideas to meet them. But just as each new event contains similarities to and is connected with events preceding, and in turn influences the events to follow, so too, the ideas related to these events have a similarity and a continuity, and this being the case, old ideas and programs have a relative validity. What the revolutionary Marxist must do is to test the validity of his theory in general, to sift from it what is outlived and wrong, and to relate it to the concrete problems which confront him.

We adhere to the basic conceptions of Marxism because they have proved again and again to be the most efficacious tool in our theoretical structure and because their essential elements have proved to be true. No better set of ideas has been shown to be superior to Marxism – and not because no attempts have been made to think of better ones. On the contrary, the attempts have been countless. But all of them have failed dismally. Judd’s failure will be even more ignominious because he has not done as much as the anti-Marxist critics; he offers no alternative to what he proposes to discard completely. He stands in a gap.

The Failures of Trotsky

After devoting a good third of his article to explain the reasons for his ambiguity and to justify his particular evasion of responsibility in failing to present an alternative program to Marxism and Trotskyism, Judd finally gets down to a specific criticism of the latter. In about three pages of The New International he examines the relevance of all the theoretical and political contributions of forty years of revolutionary activity of the outstanding Marxist of our time. So Judd arbitrarily reduces Trotsky’s contributions to five: the evaluation of our epoch, the transitional program, the revolutionary socialist party, the permanent revolution, and tactics and strategy. The introduction to the “concretization” of his “modest task” consists of an indictment of the self-styled “orthodox Trotskyists” of the practically defunct 4th International and the Cannonite SWP. This is his first point, and we shall see how our friend fares.

Trotsky did not leave a great movement behind him. His heirs are epigones (again, the reference is to the self-styled “orthodox Trotskyists”). They are “bankrupt cliques” with a “bureaucratic ideology.” Why did Trotsky, “such a magnificent leader of such heroic and bold proportions, leave behind him such a short-lived movement which stumbled from one disaster to another and has now definitively collapsed?” One could ask the same of Marx and Engels. Why did they leave a Second International, and such heirs as Bernstein, Kautsky, MacDonald, Bauer and Wels? And why did Lenin leave what subsequently became the Stalintern, and such heirs as Stalin, Molotov, Manuilsky and Vyshinsky? Our scientist, who is fully aware of the importance of the psychological, as well as the unknowable quality and quantity of the subjective factor in politics, answers: “A large part of the answer, of course, lies in the false perspectives which his movement inherited from Trotsky.”

It would seem that Trotsky is mainly responsible for the ills outlined above. But with the method characteristic of the article, Judd also writes: “How fortunate for this great socialist and revolutionist that he cannot be estimated in the terms of his ‘heirs’!” If Judd’s thesis is correct, why not? If his theoretical conceptions are so false and produced the shambles Judd describes, why shouldn’t “his organization” and “the political leaders and spokesmen Trotsky left behind” be worthy of his name? The logic of his thinking and the subtleties of his conclusions escape us for the moment.

Exactly what in Trotsky’s program produced this complete bankruptcy, assuming that it is he alone that produced it and that the objective situation had nothing to do with it? Judd continues:

“Trotsky had a rounded, internally clear and consistent view of things. Proletarian revolution was at the heart of it, just as belief in the simplistic ‘dialectics’ of Engels was at the heart of his approach to science.”

The last sentence is indeed a wonder to behold. The relationship of its two parts may be obscure to ordinary minds. But perhaps Judd sees some deep connection between Trotsky’s belief in the proletarian revolution and his belief in the “simplistic ‘dialectics’” of Engels which determined his approach to science. Note well, too, that the word dialectics is put in quotes! That creates the proper suspicion that there must have been something mystical in Trotsky’s method of thinking in this age of the triumph of science. And if Engels’ dialectics was “simplistic” in the pre-Einstein era of science, Judd appears to convict the belief in proletarian revolution of “guilt by association” in a single sentence. We await with impatience Judd’s explanation of the meaning of this obscure and moderne statement.

Trotsky, it seems, believed in 1938, when the program of the 4th International was formulated, that the epoch in which we lived, choked with economic crisis and mass unemployment, threatened with a catastrophic world war, was profoundly revolutionary and that the “central need was for revolutionary leadership and a revolutionary party.” To make matters worse in the opinion of Judd, he “had a rounded, internally clear and consistent view of things.” Little could be worse than that, obviously, for therein lay Trotsky’s failure and retrospectively Judd has found the “flaw.” Bearing in mind his comment about Engels’ “simplistic ‘dialectics’” and how it affected Trotsky’s attitude toward science, we must conclude that if Trotsky were not so affected he would have presented us with a one-sided, unclear and inconsistent view of things. But, here again, we must admonish Judd in the same way that he chided his other critics, that he is “denying the dynamics of history” and “attempts to pass a sterile judgment on the past.”

Did Trotsky have a right to see the epoch as a profoundly revolutionary one in 1938? Were not all the preconditions, save one, present for a profound social change? Did he have a right to expect that another devastating war would or could usher in the revolutionary struggle for socialism? Even many bourgeois leaders looked for the same thing. And if he saw the prospects of a new social explosion, was he not correct also to see that the central need of the times was a revolutionary leadership and a revolutionary party, without which we cannot hope for a fundamental social change? The only thing that makes sense in Judd’s remarks is that he no longer believes in the “traditional Marxist” conception of the role of leadership and a proletarian revolutionary party.

Was it Trotsky’s overestimation of the revolutionary curve that caused his movement to collapse? Better yet, why should an overestimation of the revolutionary curve produce such utter and complete bankruptcy? There is really no scientific reason why this had to follow. It may have produced a defeat for his movement, but again, it did not follow that this overestimation should have crushed the movement, especially since this movement had little opportunity to participate in any great struggle.

Trotsky was fully aware that the revolutionary socialist movement was missing from the scene. He was just as aware that without this quintessential factor, no successful struggle for socialism was possible. But given the factors of capitalist decay and degeneration and the mood of enormous dissatisfaction among millions of workers and middle class elements, he felt that a great social explosion could produce swiftly the organization that would make the struggle for socialism possible. And this is what he sought to achieve, to find a bridge over which the masses could travel from their incurable dissatisfaction with society to the struggle for socialism. It was the search for such a bridge that produced the transitional program.

But the bankruptcy about which Judd writes was in this case, at least, not due to overestimation of the revolutionary potential. As a matter of fact, the 4th International never even got started. A more pertinent question to have posed was whether Trotsky did not prematurely attempt the construction of a new international, whether his failure to correctly evaluate Stalinism did not preclude a growth of the 4th international. That’s what is pertinent. However, in rejecting Trotsky’s “rounded, internally clear and consistent view of things,” what does Judd say about the period between 1938 and 1946? What kind of period was it that we lived through and what could Trotsky, with superhuman foresight, have elucidated as the program for the socialist movement?

We learn that because Trotsky had this “rounded, internally clear, and consistent view of things ... he fought so bitterly against those who tended to upset his well-worked-out theoretical program with either doubts or outright challenge on such matters, for example, as the ‘Russian Question.’” It was this failure which, in turn, led to Trotsky’s “failure to grasp the profound changes occurring not only in the structure of world society, but in the source of revolutionary activity itself, i.e., socialist mass and class consciousness. Any movement which clung to the Trotsky perspective was bound to end up in that state of political paranoia, marked by a phantasy-world existence, which we see in his followers today.”

There are several propositions involved in these remarks. First, if the Second World War “marks a definite transition between two epochs” then Trotsky could not possibly have forseen the new epoch since he was assassinated before this war was fully under way. If the transition occurred when he was no longer with us, therefore he could not possibly have dealt with the problems which it presumably raised. This task obviously falls upon the shoulders of those Marxists who live after him.

But Judd may reply that it was Trotsky’s false position on the Russian question which prevented him from foreseeing this new epoch. Then, how about those who had a correct position on Russia? Why didn’t they foresee it? Why didn’t Judd himself foresee it? No matter, he sees it now. In that case, let us find out what it is.

Judd returns to the theme that the concepts of classic Trotskyism cannot be “of much assistance based as they are upon the existence of a mass socialist consciousness, forever expanding under the lash of experience and the teachings of the vanguard party. Perhaps the outstanding difference between the past of Trotsky and our present is the absence of this mass of human beings in whom socialist consciousness, to one or another degree, existed.” We are beginning to get a hint at what he is driving at. The terms “socialist mass and class consciousness” begin to take on some meaning. The sense of Judd’s remarks are that these factors are no longer capable of emerging, therefore, the struggle for socialism, no less, must begin elsewhere. Let us recapitulate: There is no socialist consciousness. There are only “great masses of socially conscious people.” If there is no socialist consciousness and no prospect of its arising in this new “retrogressive-collectivist” epoch, how can there be a socialist party? Obviously a socialist party can exist only where there is socialist consciousness. It follows, does it not, that if there are only great masses of socially-conscious people and “they are probably more numerous than ever and offer us a clue to the kind of program required,” we must have a new type of party. If this is not what Judd means, pray then what does he mean? And if it is what he means, would not human progress be aided at least a little bit if he were to say so in plain English?

He goes on to say that those socially-conscious, as distinguished from the socialist-conscious people, “desire a new life, they are against war, they have hopes and aspirations often concrete in form.” Socialist consciousness “lies in self-consciousness and awareness; a state of understanding in which the worker himself realizes that his and his alone is the task, that he is the creator of the revolution and socialism.”

Good, more or less. How does this relate to the relevance of Trotskyism in our time? Presumably Trotsky believed that we were dealing with an international working class that had reached a high state of socialist consciousness and therefore the epoch was invested with revolutionary consequences, and therefore a transitional program was required as a bridge to these socialist masses.

But if we were dealing with a socialist working class then no bridge was required to raise it above the level of mere dissatisfaction. A socialist working class would not be merely dissatisfied with its conditions; it would be consciously organized for socialism, and a transitional program for such a working class would be superfluous.

Trotsky did not believe in spontaneity as the central feature of the socialist struggle and he did not believe the working class comes automatically by its socialist awareness. He knew as well as any that the older generation of European socialists was destroyed, but he counted on the disintegration of capitalism to produce the necessary conditions for the creation of a new socialist mass. In his mind the transitional program, among other considerations, was to act as a catalytic agent in the reestablishment of a socialist cadre and a socialist following.

Because Trotsky and his Marxist predecessors did not believe socialist consciousness arises automatically, he understood the necessity for a party and leadership. All Marxists recognized the class struggle as a vast school of socialist education, in which the working class, by its own experiences and the intervention of the conscious socialist vanguard, reached the level of socialist consciousness. So long as capitalism exists, so long as an exploitive society resting on industrial production exists, so long as a working class remains indispensable to modern production, the necessity of socialism will remain. And if that is true, then there are no other means by which the working class can emancipate itself except through its own organizations, economic and political, and its socialist formations, constituted as a vanguard and leadership of the class at large.

If Judd is saying anything by this reference to the socialist mass, class consciousness and social consciousness, he is saying that under the new conditions brought about by the recent war the proletariat is no longer the leader of the socialist struggle, that other classes are equally as important, and the emancipation of society will proceed through some new means. This is so because neither the masses who follow the Labor Party in its alteration of British society nor the millions of workers who follow Stalinism are socialist (they are corrupted or primitive ideologically).

The new socially-conscious people (is it an accident that Judd uses this non-class and unscientific term?) offer us the clue to the kind of program we need: against war, for a new life and ... hopes and aspirations often concrete in form. If true, that at least would be more than Judd has in his mind – something concrete. But we have no reason to believe that Judd knows anything about it.

What hopes and aspirations do they have in concrete form? The need for social change, or just an improvement of their conditions under the existing social orders? It makes a difference, you know. And what are the hopes and aspirations of the British workers when they support a Labor Party that nationalizes so large a segment of capitalist economy? What are the hopes and aspirations of those hundreds of thousands of workers who follow Stalinism because they believe this plebian, anti-capitalist but enslaving movement will improve their lot? Here, too, you look in vain for an answer.

History, however, does provide you with some answers, even though Judd rejects the criteria, examples and illustrations of the past. The Russian Revolution is thus far our most outstanding revolutionary and socialist experience. It reached its zenith in the struggle of the masses around the very simple slogans of Land! Peace! Bread! Not very “socialist” slogans, were they? Yet they contained in essence the hopes and aspirations of the Russian proletariat at a specific point in the historical position of the country, and it was a vanguard party which understood these hopes and aspirations and translated them into slogans of action which were realized only by a revolutionary Marxist (“Trotskyist”) party and a socialist revolution.

How shall socialists now mobilize these socially-conscious people who desire a new life, who are against war and whose hopes and aspirations often are concrete in form? In an all-inclusive organization of the people? With a leadership, with a vanguard, or without them? What shall the program of this new movement be? What will be the nature of this organization? We are afraid you will wait in vain for an answer.

Now, as a matter of fact, it is true that the transitional program worked out by Trotsky in the middle of a world economic crisis, where a war threatened, assumed the revolutionary potential to be higher than it really was. He even thought that the class struggle in the United States was more highly developed than it really was, or is at this time. Not all American Trotskyists agreed with Trotsky. This, too, is a known fact.

The transitional program for the United States was in the nature of things a compromise of ideas. But if that program is examined today, not even Judd could assert that it was an unrealistic program. The most important element of that program was the adoption of the slogan of a labor party! How do we stand with this slogan? Is it good or bad? Is it not an indispensable requirement for the development of even a socially conscious American working class? And would not such a party signify a tremendous ideological growth of the American working class? How about the slogan of a sliding scale of wages and a sliding scale of hours? Cannot this slogan be utilized in many forms in various periods of development? What about the slogan of “open the books!”? Does not this slogan have a tremendous appeal to large segments of the working class? Was it not the outstanding feature of the General Motors strike of two years ago, and will it not again become an increasingly important issue in the struggle between the monopolists and the workers and their unions?

What is also wrong with Trotsky’s transitional program, says Judd, is that Trotsky, in his revolutionary perspective, hoped that it would become the “tactical and strategic means by which the Fourth International was to become the ‘World Party of the Socialist Revolution’,” No, Trotsky sought more than that, even though there would be nothing wrong in it. He sought to create a program that would raise the masses above the struggle for minimal demands. Any socialist organization, reformist or revolutionary, has a minimal and an end program (except the SLP). The transitional program was intended by Trotsky (it was not his invention, by the way) as the bridge to the end goal of the socialist revolution and workers’ power.

Since his revolutionary perspective was false, because it didn’t happen that way, Judd says we must have a new transitional program “but not one directed exclusively at proletarian and vanguard revolutionary elements, aiming to define the relations between class and vanguard party.” You see the problem today is vastly different. There is no vast proletarian consciousness. There is only a socially-conscious people. “The gap to be bridged is much wider and deeper,” says Judd, “than that between party and class. It is no longer a gap of inner class relationships, but rather a gap between the working class as a whole, together with its socialist consciousness [didn’t we read only a moment ago that it didn’t exist any more?], and the rest of society.”

First of all, the revolutionary socialists never believed that socialism was dependent upon the proletariat alone. Quite the contrary, they always knew that without the support of the lower middle class at least, a socialist transformation of society was not possible. The Marxist movement always sought to align the whole of society against the monopolistic bourgeoisie and its allies, and that is one of the reasons why the Marxian program in its concrete aspects incorporated an enormous breadth of ideas and propositions. So do the transitional programs as they are applied to country after country, even when they overestimate the revolutionary potential.

A Non-Class Party?

What Judd proposes is a non-class party to close the gap between the working class and the rest of society, because the working class is no longer the most powerful force for a socialist change. Which force is? The middle class? The intellectuals? The farmers? All of them together? Good; suppose it is all of them together. Who will lead the struggle? Who will play the most active, most decisive role in this coalition of forces? Or doesn’t that matter? Judd does not even treat with this question which poses itself automatically from the sweeping disposition he makes of the working class.

Judd is running around in circles, for no sooner has he finished with the above profound pronouncement, than he adds:

A new program must concern itself with the problem of resurrecting socialist consciousness and thereby beginning to regain for the working class its role – now lost – as leader and emancipator of society.

So he does want the proletariat to resume its role. Why he wants it to resume its role when the Second World War changed everything, introduced new factors, disposed of the old Marxist program which was based precisely on the theory of the leadership of society by the proletariat is difficult for us to understand.

We think we see a clue to Judd’s inability to say anything concretely and to give readers some point of contact with him. He has disposed of the “traditional conceptions of Marxism”; the Second World War disposed of all previous “criteria, examples and illustrations.” Given that, where does one begin to write a new program? Says Judd, the problems of a new program “go back to the origins of Marxian socialism itself, rather than resting upon the long Marxist tradition.” Back to the origins! Owen? Proudhon? Weitling? Moses Hess? Or Fourier and Saint-Simon? If Marx cannot help us, neither can Trotsky or Lenin, since their programs rested on traditional Marxism. Then the only sense the above remark has is that a new theory and program should be constructed on the historically rejected concepts of utopianism, or the vague socialism of Marx’s predecessors and contemporaries, whom history has already dealt with rather conclusively.

The Role of the Party

In his article Judd leaves for his last point the question of the “revolutionary vanguard party.” We prefer to reverse the order and consider it ahead of the question of the permanent revolution since the issue is already related to his discussion of the transitional program, where he supplied us with some of his conceptions of the problem. The question of the party – now, let us see. No, “it is not the case in any appreciation of Trotskyism. Trotsky accepted the Leninist party, to be sure, but he did not contribute much to what he took over. In fact, his main concern with the role of the party as such dealt largely with its inner degeneration (The New Course, etc.) and his struggle against its bureaucratism.” That’s all!

But what did Trotsky say about it in The New Course and in innumerable articles? Well, dear readers, Trotsky proposed to “continue in the Leninist tradition” and to discuss it “would take us far afield and must therefore be left aside except to remark that whatever Trotskyist ‘parties’ exist today are but bureaucratic caricatures of even the Leninist conception.” And again: “A true Trotsky-created party has never existed (and never will), which makes it still more difficult to talk concretely about Trotsky’s conception of the party.” And Judd is through. One might well ask: Why did you raise the question at all?

As a matter of history, Trotsky did embrace Lenin’s main conceptions of the vanguard party, but he accepted them with a considerable emphasis of his own. These views, expressed so vigorously and instructively in The New Course in 1923, were the ground-work for material which Trotsky wrote over the succeeding years on questions which Lenin could not possibly have dealt with.

The fact that the Fourth International never developed beyond its founding conference, or that Trotsky’s self-styled heirs are more nearly Zinovievists than anything else on the organization question, does not invalidate his conceptions of the party. Suppose these conceptions, and those of Lenin, are invalidated on their own ground? Then Judd should quit humming and say so, stating his reasons for his views. We are certain that many new things can be said about socialist organizational principles and practices – and they have been said seriously by others – but Judd’s criticisms are nihilistic. Nothing else is offered.

The Permanent Revolution

So we come now to the most absurd part of Judd’s article, the theory of the permanent revolution. In five short paragraphs he dismisses the theory to which Trotsky devoted a life-time, and which is undoubtedly his most brilliant contribution to Marxian theory and, we must add, perhaps the most brilliant elaboration of a revolutionary conception since Marx’s time. Trotsky did not lack, as Judd nimbly writes, “the opportunity to develop it in its fullest and most rounded form, [though] his life work was permeated with the tactics and strategy upon which his theory was based.”

Trotsky, as any serious student of socialism knows, wrote voluminously on the question of the permanent revolution, and perhaps more on that single question than on any other. A very thick volume could be compiled of these writings. The old Communist League of America issued a small book by Trotsky entitled The Permanent Revolution. This dealt with the theory in general but related it to the struggle against Stalinism and the meaning of the theory in relation to the Russian Revolution and the colonial question.

His pre-1905 conceptions of the theory were set down in his now famous and long essay, Toward a Labor Dictatorship, which appeared in the American book, Our Revolution. His History of the Russian Revolution, which is permeated with the conception, also contains an appendix on the historical references of the theory. Many of the writings on the fight against Stalinism deal with it, and the other writings on, revolutionary strategy and tactics, as Judd acknowledges, flow from the theory. What is more, he developed the theory more completely and with greater skill than on any other question.

What the Theory Contained

The theory of the permanent revolution was not, as Judd implies, directly or most importantly related to the colonial question, although Trotsky did apply it to that field and most perspicaciously, too. The theory originated with reference to the nature of the Russian Revolution and the character of the state power of the working class. It had three fundamental aspects and we quote from it at length to refresh the memory. The theory of the permanent revolution pointed out

... that the democratic tasks of the backward bourgeois nations in our epoch led to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the proletariat puts the socialist tasks on the order of the day. In that lay the central idea of the theory. If the traditional view was that the road to the dictatorship led through a long period of democracy, the theory of the permanent revolution established the fact that for backward countries the road to democracy passed through the dictatorship of the proletariat. By that alone democracy does not become a regime anchored within itself for decades, but rather a direct introduction to the socialist revolution. Each is bound to the other by an unbroken chain. In this way, there arises between the democratic revolution and the socialist transformation of society a permanency of revolutionary development.

The second aspect of the “permanent” theory already characterizes the socialist revolution as such. For an indefinitely long time and in constant internal struggle, all social relations are transformed ... Revolutions in economy, technique, science, the family, morals and usages develop in complicated reciprocal action and do not allow society to reach equilibrium. Therein lies the permanent character of the socialist revolution as such.

The international character of the socialist revolution, which constitutes the third aspect of the theory of the permanent revolution, results from the present state of economy and the social structure of humanity. Internationalism is no abstract principle, but a theoretical and political reflection of the character of world economy, of the world development of productive forces, and the world scale of the class struggle. The socialist revolution begins on national grounds. But it cannot be completed on these grounds ... The international revolution presents a permanent process, in spite of all fleeting rises and falls.

The above is merely an indication of the ramifications of the theory. We wish that space permitted us to quote several pages from The Permanent Revolution which deal exclusively with the colonial question to illustrate whether or not Trotsky understood the problem of backward “imperialist wards.” Judd himself is forced to acknowledge that

In our epoch, he [Trotsky] maintained, those tasks formerly associated with the bourgeois-democratic revolution (national independence, unity of the country, ... agrarian solution, etc.) could only be solved by a proletariat in power. In the sense that a progressive, democratic and socialist solution of such tasks can be achieved only by the proletariat, Trotsky’s theory remains entirely true and valid. But we know now that, in the form he presented it, it is no longer adequate and its proposed tactics and strategy are largely obsolete abstractions.

So that while Trotsky’s theory remains entirely true and valid so far as the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution are concerned, his proposed tactics and strategy are “largely obsolete abstractions.” A pity that Judd did not explain himself concretely. In any case, let us ask the question: Why? The answer is that “imperialism is an abstract and absolute force in Trotsky’s theory.” An abstract ... and absolute ... force) Where?

What does Judd mean? Does he mean that Trotsky had an abstract conception of imperialism and believed it to be an absolute force because he did not believe that Stalinist Russia was an imperialist nation? That his conceptions of capitalist imperialism were abstract, or that he believed it to be an absolute force? Trotsky’s failure, or the failure of his theory of the permanent revolution, we are told, is the result of his inability to foresee Stalin’s triumph in China and to write about it, to provide us with a theory for the struggle against Stalinism in the colonial areas of the world. He also failed to foresee “the changes in imperialism itself.” The changes within imperialism, particularly since the war, “have been of such a significant nature that this alone has altered the whole problem of colonialism.”

The New Problems

Let us take the first of these problems, the Stalinist triumph in Asia. Unquestionably this has posed new problems to the Marxist movement. Trotsky, not being clairvoyant – even if he had had what we consider to be a correct position on the Russian state, he would not have been able or called upon to foresee this – could not possibly have dealt with the problems created by a Stalinist advance into China and the expulsion of the capitalist and imperialist regime. What then happens to his theory of the permanent revolution of China? If the kernel of its ideas presented above is fully understood, then it is obvious that the revolutionary process must continue in China under Mao, as it does in Russia and the satellite nations in Europe.

The imposition of a Stalinist regime may make the struggle more difficult because of the nature of Stalinism, but the necessity for socialism is not at all abolished by the existence of this new social force. It is the task of the Marxists in our time to apply the essential meaning of the theory of the permanent revolution to this problem and to provide the program for struggle against the new enslaving state. In achieving this, you will find that Trotsky’s theory will be found helpful in more ways than just the “spirit of approach, its audacity,” though these are by no means unimportant factors.

What about India and Indonesia? Was not Trotsky wrong when he denied that such colonial countries could achieve their independence without an insurrectionary struggle led by the colonial proletariat? They have actually achieved this without much of a struggle at all in the case of India, and in the case of Indonesia, with a halting, inconclusive battle. No, in Indonesia, they actually lost the battle or were stalemated.

Yet two great imperialists, Great Britain and the Netherlands, “voluntarily” surrendered their rule over India and Indonesia, and Britain “gave” Burma its independence. Why did they do that? Because of the changes in imperialism, as Judd suggests? What kind of changes? No answer. The answer, however, is an obvious one.

The Second World War crippled the power of the British and the Dutch, made it virtually impossible for them to engage in a protracted war with these large colonial nations, for continued hold on them would have meant permanent war. So the decline of two imperialist powers resulted in the release of political rule over two of their holdings.

These changes took place in the Second World War. How then could Trotsky concern himself with them in his “concentration upon immediate issues within the national-revolutionary movement itself (as for example, in his writings on China),” which were written five, ten and fifteen years before the outbreak of this war? So Judd adds: “In terms of a mechanical application of Trotsky’s theory, it is impossible to conceive of an independent India.” Precisely! In terms of a mechanical application – but even here Judd is not on strong ground. It is true that neither he nor any other Marxist believed before the war that colonial independence would be granted without a struggle. But that is not what the theory of the permanent revolution is predicated upon. In his book on the question, Trotsky does not speak of this at all!

In the fourteen-point summary of his book, Trotsky merely says:

2. With regard to the countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks, democratic and national emancipation, is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.

3. Not only the agrarian, but also the national question, assigns to the peasantry, the overwhelming majority of the population of the backward countries, an important place in the democratic revolution. Without an alliance of the proletariat with the peasantry, the tasks of the democratic revolution cannot be solved, nor even seriously posed. But the alliance of these two classes can be realized in no other way than through an intransigent struggle against the influence of the national bourgeoisie.

Let us consider for a moment the question of India. Has there been a “complete and genuine solution of their tasks, democratic and national emancipation”? One could hardly say that and still realize that an extreme danger of war exists between India and Pakistan. Is there genuine democracy in India for the masses? Has the agrarian revolution, the most fundamental aspect of the democratic revolution in a backward or colonial country, been achieved? Why, it has not really even started! Does Judd know this to be the fact? He should and does. He is a close student of the problem, and we haven’t the slightest doubt that he could write voluminously about the failures of the Nehru government, the “socialist” regime, and its record of dismal failures in carrying out the democratic revolution because it is a bourgeois regime and nothing else. Will Nehru carry out the democratic revolution? We are sure that not even Judd will affirm this.

India is not the living negation of the theory of the permanent revolution; it is the living affirmation of the theory. The solution of the colonial question under the “new conditions” created by the war, will follow more generally Trotsky’s conceptions than any other we know of. This much is true: the theory has to be amended and extended to answer the problems that are really new. But that is something altogether different from what Judd has done.

What about Trotsky’s other contributions? Were there any other except those which Judd chose to pick? We think so. His contributions to the Russian Revolution, in theory and practice, remain a lasting monument to revolutionary thought and action. Moreover, he set these down in so many of his writings that they serve as a permanent guide to the future socialist cadres.

In the degeneration of the revolution, Trotsky provided us with the first lessons of that development, and in the struggle against Stalinism his writings and the fight he made, likewise are lasting contributions to the theories of socialism, socialist construction and the nature of the state power of the working class and its tasks.

The appearance of the phenomenon of German fascism and the problems it created in relation to the national question, the united front, the general struggle of the proletariat against totalitarianism, are likewise an imperishable part of the contributions made by Trotsky.

The greatest failure of Trotsky was his inability to evaluate Stalinism correctly – although toward his last days here, too, we know that he was considering the possibility of a radical revision of Marxism on the Stalinist state and Stalinism in general. What would have been the result of such a new study, we cannot tell. But it is important to see that he was at work on it, and we would like to think, by what he did write and print, especially his penetrating, even if conditional, appraisal of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism, that we would have found common ground with him.

It goes without saying that in forty years of revolutionary activity, many things that Trotsky wrote turned out to be wrong. To expect otherwise would be silly; it would require a belief in Trotsky as a superhuman force. Like all great leaders and like the genius of the proletarian revolution that he was, he made many mistakes. But even though a total evaluation of such a leader must consider his mistakes as well as his positive contribution, in the case of Trotsky there is, in our opinion, no room for argument about his enormous and lasting contributions, theoretically and practically, to the socialist movement. It is upon the tremendous theoretical contributions of Marx and Engels, and their finest representatives, Lenin and Trotsky, that the new movement for socialist emancipation will arise.

Our friend Judd accomplished this much at least. By his amorphous, illogical and thoughtless essay, he directed attention once more to the fundamental correctness of the Marxian program. Does this mean that there are no new problems for us to solve? Does this mean that the world is the same today as it was in Marx’s time, or Lenin’s or even Trotsky’s? Not at all. Who has said so? And on whose authority? We are well aware that many new problems remain to be solved. We grant too that the problems of today are exceedingly complex, and more difficult of solution than any that ever confronted the working-class movement in all its history.

We have never denied their existence or regarded these problems lightly. They are indeed tremendous. But, after saying all of this, what should we do about them? Judd has supplied one answer: abandon everything we have ever stood for, begin anew without regard to the past and its experiences and lessons, begin at the very origin of Marxism, begin, begin – with what ... no one knows. Not a very enticing proposal, nor one calculated to produce anything worth while.

But wait, we are not yet through. After all that he has written, our friend, logical and scientific, burdened by no obsolete views or dogmas or even by a belief in the simplistic dialectics of Engels, and who is certain that all the traditional conceptions of Marxism have been uprooted and cast aside by the developments in modern society, is nevertheless fully confident of the future. Splendid! But why? Because he’s a born and incorrigible optimist? No; at least not only because of that. Then why? Well, because ... “The general framework of Marxist and socialist thought still exists, but in a changed world.” Thank God, everything is crystal clear at last.

How does one characterize such an article? It is not a very fruitful attempt to provide an alternative, to grapple with what is real. It is political jabberwocky. It is a “mood piece,” And its mood is indigo.


Note by ETOL

1. Albert Gates was a pseudonym of Albert Glotzer and Henry Judd was a pseudonym of Stanley Plastrik.

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Last updated: 19 October 2018