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John G. Wright

A New Marxist Classic

(March 1943)

From Fourth International, Vol.4 No.3, March 1943, pp.89-90.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

IN DEFENSE OF MARXISM – Against the Petty-Bourgeois Opposition
by Leon Trotsky
Pioneer Publishers, 116 University Place, New York, N. Y., 1943. Pp. 211+XXI
Cloth $2.00. Paper cover $1.50.

Since Lenin died nineteen years ago there have been many attempts to install one form of revisionism or another in place of Marxism, the doctrine of the proletarian revolution. In the sphere of thought these eddies reproduced the maelstrom of imperialist reaction in the interval between the two world wars. Revisionist ideas have their deepest roots in the petty bourgeoisie. The reasons for it were long ago laid bare by Marx.

“The petty bourgeois,” he explained in 1865, “is always composed of ‘On-the-One-Hand’ and ‘On-the-Other-Hand.’ Two contradictory tendencies dominate his economic interest and therefore his politics, his scientific, religious and esthetic views. It is so in his morals, in everything. He is a living contradiction.”

In his perpetual condition of indecision, vacillation and instability, the petty bourgeois, when confronted with the titanic tasks and events of our epoch, falls at the first blow from the summits of revolutionary exaltation to abysmal moods of cynicism, despair and panic. Revisionist attempts, in essence, represent a series of petty bourgeois capitulations, each more degrading than the one before, to the imperialist bourgeoisie.

Leon Trotsky’s last book contains the articles and letters written by him in the heat of the struggle – from August 1939 to April 1940 – against the revisionist minority in the Socialist Workers Party. In addition, there are articles and letters following the split. The final letter in this book was written on August 17, 1940, three days before the GPU assassin struck him down. This was no passing struggle. The issues involved were neither local, episodic nor tertiary. As Trotsky correctly characterized it in his Open Letter to Burnham:

“It is a question of nothing more or less than an attempt to reject, disqualify and overthrow the theoretical foundations, the political principles and organizational methods of our movement.”

Precisely because the struggle was so deep-going and all-inclusive in its character, these writings, and letters of Leon Trotsky are of historical and international significance. Concentrated in them are the experiences, lessons and traditions of all the previous great struggles against revisionism – struggles in which successive generations of proletarian revolutionists received their basic training.

Trotsky participated personally in all of them save the first, namely the one waged – a year before Trotsky was born – by Engels in 1877-78 (Anti-Duehring). Already as a youth at the beginning of this century, Trotsky took part in the international struggle against the Western European revisionists (Bernstein & Co.), and later in Lenin’s epic battles against the Russian varieties of revisionism: the “Legal Marxism” of Professors Struve-Bulgakov & Co., Economism, Menshevism, the Neo-Machism of Bogdanov & Co., etc. In the theoretical fight against the Russian Mensheviks Trotsky played a leading role next only to that of Lenin. Then came the crucial battles against the social-chauvinists during the first World War. The fight against the opportunists (revisionists) of the Second International continued during and after the Russian revolution of 1917 when Trotsky fought side by side with Lenin. After Lenin’s death, Trotsky, at the head of the Russian Left Opposition (1923-29), battered down the whole structure of Stalinist revisionism and falsification within the Third International. It was this unequalled experience combined with his sure mastery of the theoretical weapons forged by Marx, Engels and Lenin that Trotsky turned full-blast in the last year of his life, against the latter-day revisionists who had arisen within his own movement.

In richness and diversity of content only one other Marxist classic matches this volume, Friedrich Engels’ Herr Eugen Duehring’s Revolution in Science (Anti-Duehring). For the scope and extent of Trotsky’s last struggle against revisionism involved not only the burning political issues of the day (the defense of the Soviet Union, the Soviet-Finnish war, the character of the second World War, etc.) but the whole domain of Marxist thought and practice, from the plane of organization principles of Bolshevism to the peaks of theory, from a dissection of clique politics to the brilliant summation of dialectical materialism.

This is a manual above all for the revolutionary youth of the whole world. By steeping themselves in it and using it as a guide they will assure themselves from the outset of a schooling in the traditions of Marxism, the greatest of which is: the unyielding and implacable defense of ideas, of the principles conquered in life-and-death struggles. These principles are the sole foundation upon which it is possible to build the principal instrument of the revolution – the proletarian party. That is why genuine Marxists have always met head-on and fully settled accounts with all attempts at revisionism. In a way worthy of the tradition of our masters, Trotsky carries out the task in this book.

The very publication of In Defense of Marxism is, again, in the great Marxist tradition of fully documenting our fights, thus explaining to the end what we are, what we stand for, what decisions we arrive at, what are the issues in the fight and what the political reasons are for all our unifications and splits. Our movement has absorbed this tradition into its blood and marrow. It is our richest heritage. It is what the Bolshevik Left Wing did when they split from the Second International during the last war. The polemical writings of Lenin and Trotsky against the social-chauvinist majority, before the split, became the programmatic documents of the new movement which arose from the split. The same course was followed by the Trotskyist Left Opposition in the struggle against the Stalinized Communist International. Trotsky’s polemics against Stalinism from 1923 on – The New Course, Lessons of October, Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern, his articles against the Anglo-Russian Committee, his articles on China and the rest of that precious material – educated the cadres of the new world movement. From the day of its proclamation in 1933, the Fourth International has never swerved from the path of fully documenting all its struggles. This is one of the primary considerations for publishing this volume and for the publication of companion volumes scheduled for the immediate future.

In each of the struggles against revisionism it was the revisionist majority that tried to suppress the basic documents in the fights, and it remained for the seceding sections to make them available and known to the world. In the present instance it was the revisionists who were in the minority and seceded. But unlike the revolutionary fighters, they make no effort whatever to publish their documents. Nothing is so self-indicting and annihilating to the “Workers Party” as this fact. They have yet to explain their separate existence! The task has to be performed for them by others.

The principal document of the opposition, Science and Style – mimeographed and circulated by them during the fight and since then pocketed – is published for the first time as an appendix to this volume. There is a reason for this self-suppression. It is manifestly not convenient for them to reveal on what shabby ideological grounds they based their struggle and their subsequent split. As Trotsky pointed out, throughout the fight they refused to give battle on principled grounds. Because of this they now hide their own documents and find themselves in a position – certainly an anomaly for a seceding group – of leaving the causes for the split without any serious theoretical and political explanation. Instead from time to time, in passing, they offer as reasons for the split only fables and nursery bogies: “Cannon kicked us out!” “We are such civilized, cultured and moral individuals as could never survive in a bureaucratic jungle like the Socialist Workers Party!” And so forth and so on.

Therefore it is not surprising that these people who sometimes refer to themselves as “Trotskyists” are unable to find time on their hands or space in their publications to review this manual of Trotskyism by one who up till now has been considered the first authority on the subject. If they attempted to review Trotsky’s book they would be obliged to give an appraisal of their chief programmatic document in the struggle, Professor Burnham’s, Science and Style, upon which they have so long maintained a dignified silence, and which, as has already been said, is reprinted in the appendix to Trotsky’s book.

In Defense of Marxism has been hailed enthuiastically by the revolutionary youth and is being studied assiduously by all serious students of the movement. Within the few weeks since its publication this indispensable manual of Marxism has already achieved an international circulation. We feel certain that our co-thinkers all over the world will not only disseminate it as widely as possible but will exert their energies to translate it into the native languages of their respective countries.

Pioneer Publishers is to be congratulated on the historic service performed by its publication in English.

Last updated: 28.12.2005