The Rights and Wrongs

No one can bring back the past on correct foundations with mistakes deleted out. But at least it is possible to draw lessons from past experiences to advance the struggle today. Proletarian struggle demands the honest revolutionary Marxist take an attitude in this direction, face their mistakes, renew themselves through drawing a revolutionary balance sheet and leap forward in order to build the new by arming themselves with the revolutionary lessons of historical experiences. It should be kept in mind that in the present world where objective conditions are fully ripe for the world working class to overthrow capitalism the task of creating the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat is as much important. To cope with this task and move on, the hindrance that has been posed by the past years’ worldwide negative legacy on organisational area must be overcome. These are the fundamental pillars of how internationalist communists, who do not lose their historical optimism and, when necessary, dare to swim against the current, understand duties of the day both on a national and international level.

We have been drawing attention for long in almost all our articles to the system crisis that capitalism is engulfed in, growing unemployment, deepening poverty and political instability. On a world scale the bourgeoisie steps up pressure on the working masses and spread bloody imperialist wars for a re-division of spheres of influence. Conditioned by these factors the historical period we are passing through sets before the world working class the task of heightening the struggle against the aggression of the bourgeoisie and putting an end to capitalist system before it is too late. Convulsed in economic and political crises capitalist system rots social life as it gets older, and draws humanity to extinction as it maintains its existence in this rottenness. It awaits its breakdown under the mighty fist of the revolutionary proletariat. But as we always say, the proletariat is everything if it is organised and otherwise nothing! This reality brings forth the urgency of the central task of communists on a national and international level.

After the fall of the Soviet Union old power balances of the world have changed and a new era has been opened in which the ugly face of capitalism began to appear to the humanity in all its nakedness. It would not at all be wrong to define this era in historical and objective terms as the era of workers’ revolutions that would put an end to the bourgeois rule and bring workers democracy to the world. However, objectivity does not spontaneously turn into reality without the intervention of subjective factor in the course of history. Capitalism does not fall spontaneously unless it receives the revolutionary punch of the organised working class in the head. Therefore the task of accomplishing and reinforcing the organisation of the working class on a national and international level has become much more urgent.

To accomplish this task, determined and planned steps that may perhaps appear humble today but in fact prepare the near future must be taken. Those communists who are intent to undertake this task, if they are sincere, should start out armed with revolutionary lessons set forth by the historical experiences of the world working class. In order to overcome the crisis of revolutionary leadership, a revolutionary renewal necessitated by the new historical period and a distinction between the rights and wrongs at that is a must. It must be kept in mind that a beautiful future cannot be built by clinging to the wrongs of the past. Revolutionary proletarian breakthrough that has become a life-and-death question on a world scale cannot be accomplished without setting out to strengthen the subjective factor in an organised effort, that is, without raising the level of revolutionary consciousness and organisation of the working class.

Transcending the past

Only those who managed to make way by drawing necessary lessons can avoid the past mistakes and build the new. This historical lesson bears great importance in terms of advancing the revolutionary organising of the working class in today’s world. To accomplish a new breakthrough based on correct positions, general structural traits of socialist groups should be examined without being stuck into established dogmas. To make it clear, there were two main currents that come from the past, determining the character of organisations and groups in various countries. Called as Stalinism and Trotskyism, these two main currents, created two different ideological-political lines, two different traditions and two different international organisations. The Comintern built in Lenin’s time had already been liquidated by the Stalinist rule. And the Fourth International was in an exhausted and shattered situation through successive splits. Despite this, various left organisations in almost all countries, as descendants of these two main currents, keep on their existence in a way or another without facing up to their mistakes in the past and reproducing the past mistakes.

The collapse of Stalinism on a world scale was considered by Trotskyists a historical turning point through which Trotskyism would go into ascendency, but the intervening years smashed these hollow optimistic expectations. While this is the objective situation, subjective assessments and perceptions could still be different. When we examine the present-day socialist organisations and groups on a world scale we can see that overwhelming majority of the followers of the two main currents are still not embarking on a revolutionary questioning of the past, but they are living in the shadow of it. It would even be more correct not to call this living but rather trying to pretend to live. Since with the collapse of bureaucratic regimes history put the task of questioning their past and moving forward in determination of creating the new in front of all communists intent on continuing the socialist struggle. It is an indisputable fact that those groups and organisations that are trying to keep in existence without accomplishing this, and whatever their subjective assertions and level of organising they achieved on this basis are, are inadequate in terms of revolutionary Marxism and lack the capacity to build the future.

No matter they accept or not, this fact determines, and will continue to determine, the fate of today’s socialist organisations and groups. It is quite clear that those who try to keep in existence by repeating the past mistakes will see no future other than withering away or giving strength to liquidationist tendencies by tailing non-class left currents. In today’s world, from those who feverishly support Chavista leftism through those who sanctify Syriza of Greece in the name of socialism to those who expect to generate a new revolutionary breakthrough from the petty-bourgeois spirit of Gezi movement in Turkey, it would be totally useless to expect from these kinds of tendencies that fall far away from the class line to solve the question of revolutionary organisation of the world working class. All in all, the fundamental requirement for those forces that can contribute to the solution of the question of the working class is evident. Irrespective of the adherence in the past to one of the main currents (Stalinism or Trotskyism), only internationalist communists organised on revolutionary Marxist foundations with an ambition to create the new can advance the working class’ level of revolutionary consciousness and organisation in today’s world.

Let us clarify one thing here. Nothing new can be created without historical roots. When we think in dialectical terms, to get rid of the shade of the past and surpass the past is only possible through assimilating the historical experience which constitutes the past and make a distinction between its positive and negative aspects. Thus, by breaks within continuity, that is, by regeneration with the positive legacy of the past and not succumbing to negative sides, revolutionary proletarian struggle can be advanced. So, in this context, a break off with both Stalinism and Trotskyism is necessary, but one cannot move along without recognising the categorical difference between the two.

Stalinism is not a historical problematic related to the person of Stalin. Leave that aside. Stalinism is a main current that denied Marxism in practice, particularly the most basic aspects such as the conception of workers’ power and socialism. It is a historical phenomenon consisted of the legacy of the bureaucratic-despotic regime (and its replicas) that overthrew the workers power built by the October Revolution in Russia through a bureaucratic counter-revolution that progressed within and that created an exploitative-repressive ruling class on the basis of state ownership. Trotskyism is not part of this phenomenon. However, it is more important to note that Trotskyism is not an exact continuation of Trotsky’s revolutionary struggle and efforts to organise on an international level. Although it is necessary to examine Trotsky’s weaknesses on the area of organising in comparison to Lenin and his centrist positions on this area which had been criticised by Lenin, it would completely be a narrow-minded petty-bourgeois attitude to overlook the other side of the whole, that is, not to acknowledge that he is one of the leaders of the October Revolution and that he waged a struggle against Stalinism that wiped out the achievements of the October Revolution.

No doubt Trotskyism feeds on certain erroneous approaches of Trotsky on some points. But sins of Trotskyism cannot totally be attributed to Trotsky. Just as the sins of Stalinism cannot be written to Lenin’ book just because Stalin came out of the Bolshevik Party, Trotskyism, which was created by those who claimed they were following Trotsky, is never a direct work of Trotsky. Trotskyism is a work of petty-bourgeois socialists who broke the Fourth International to pieces in petty-bourgeois strife, which had been prematurely built by Trotsky in the absence of a sufficient build-up and fermentation. This reality, leave aside what happened after Trotsky’s death, is already reflected in the struggle of Trotsky himself mounted against petty-bourgeois strife within the Fourth International. Therefore Trotsky’s assessments at that time in criticism of the petty-bourgeois reality he observed in various European countries and the USA in the context of the organising of the Fourth International are still important and relevant.

Things for Trotskyism to learn from Trotsky

The dualism of Trotsky/Trotskyism is not the first example of revolutionary leaders being tormented in the hands of petty-bourgeois socialists creating “ism”s in their name. Marx, too, faced a similar situation and complained when he said “God save me from Marxists.” In a similar vein in the aftermath of Lenin who had become the leader of great October Revolution Stalin and the like epigones invented a Leninism which is completely far away from Marxism and Lenin’s line. Therefore it is no surprise that those political organisations and groups which name themselves as Trotskyist have invented a kind of Trotskyism which moves away from Trotsky’s revolutionary spirit.

Symptoms of this are not to be sought in whether some general Marxist ideas are embraced or not. Since they defend the concept of permanent revolution against the Stalinist strategy of revolution in stages Trotskyists appear to own revolutionary Marxism. But this is not enough. What provides the proof of this defence in life and struggle is an organised stance which constitutes the dialectical bond between general economic-democratic struggles of the working class and the struggle of achieving revolutionary workers power. The dialectical link as Lenin pointed out in Comintern Congresses as the “Problem of Transition” between the maximum and minimum goals was further brought clarity and made more programmatic by Trotsky in his conception of “Transitional Program”. While in general all Trotskyists pledge allegiance to the Transitional Program, their political line and attitudes in practice lead to other directions. There have been many Trotskyist groups, which under the guise of defence of the Transitional Program they gravitated towards a reformist understanding of socialism. Most importantly, embracing the revolutionary Transitional Program of the proletariat can only be possible by labouring in actuality to create the revolutionary class organisation which constitutes a real bridge between partial demands and maximum demands. 

And this reality brings us to the point of examining what kind of road has been taken in practice in the context of creating the revolutionary organisation of the working class. The proven organisational conception throughout the history of the working class struggle is the revolutionary party conception of Lenin (not of those bureaucrats like Stalin who betrayed Bolshevism!), his struggle to build the party and his practice to advance the revolution under the leadership of the revolutionary party of the class. This aspect of the question is so much important that even Trotsky had to make an important self-criticism of his past erroneous attitudes on organisational issues and stated that from that point onwards he accepted Lenin’s conception of organisation. Leaving aside to what extent Trotsky made progress in practice in the direction of his self-criticism, he, at least, undertook the defence of Leninist-Bolshevism in light of the lessons of the struggle. However, as can be found many examples today, there are Trotskyists who, in time, have increasingly reacted against the conception of Leninist party. Therefore the truth of any Trotskyist group that claim that they have not left the road of revolutionary Marxism and claim to represent the revolutionary line of the proletariat against Stalinism should be examined right at this point, that is, whether or not they embrace the Leninist conception of party.

We cannot say that in practice Trotsky was as successful as Lenin at building the revolutionary vanguard party of the working class. But while this is one aspect of the problem, Trotskyists’ real situation after Trotsky’s death is entirely another. Trotskyism expressed an increasing tendency to walk away in a petty-bourgeois manner from not only Lenin’s line but also Trotsky’s. Thus, it would not be wrong for example to say that Trotskyism would have been blamed by Trotsky in the first place if he had lived. His harsh criticisms directed at elements of the Fourth International on the question of organisation provide clear evidence of this. To exemplify, it would be sufficient to remember important parts of his critical letters and articles written in 1939 and 1940 with a view to intervening in the debates in the US section of the Fourth International, i.e. the SWP.

First of all, one needs to remember Trotsky’s criticisms directed at the emerging petty-bourgeois opposition in the SWP, which took shelter behind the pretext of organisational democracy. The issues raised by Trotsky in this context are surely not restricted to a few specific examples and the period in which they were written. They expose the disposition of the petty-bourgeois socialism which kept on its existence in Trotskyist circles through years and caused never-ending splits. Therefore it would be appropriate to read Trotsky’s words also as a critique of petty-bourgeois groups in the socialist movement: “Like any petty-bourgeois group inside the socialist movement, the present opposition is characterized by the following features: a disdainful attitude toward theory and an inclination toward eclecticism; disrespect for the tradition of their own organization; anxiety for personal ‘independence’ at the expense of anxiety for objective truth; nervousness instead of consistency; readiness to jump from one position to another; lack of understanding of revolutionary centralism and hostility toward it; and finally, inclination to substitute clique ties and personal relationships for party discipline.” (A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party, In Defence of Marxism)

We have noted many times in our writings that what we call highbrows bear, even when they are objectively members of the working class, a petty-bourgeois class mindset, should they are not through a necessary internal transformation to become a class revolutionary. One of the biggest claims of these types is that, as they are a bit more educated, they understand theory better than workers and that they are more deeply involved in theory. Therefore they are very keen to be highbrows supposedly interested in theoretical questions without even internalising the minimum requirements of organised struggle in socialist organisations into which they have crept. This was the case in the past and is the case at present. And what is more, even if we leave aside Stalinist organisations that Trotskyism finds theoretically poor and ridicule, this problem keeps on its relevance, since there are plenty of Trotskyists who seem to embrace Trotsky’s revolutionary position in the sphere of Marxist theory only to cover their petty-bourgeois disposition.

Trotsky noted at the time that, against all their self-proclamations, this kind of ostensibly sophisticate highbrows were even way behind a party member worker in dialectical thinking. In this context, he emphasizes that while it would be pedantry to demand every party member occupy himself with philosophy of dialectics, a worker who has gone through the school of the class struggle gains from his own experience an inclination toward dialectical thinking. Such a worker, even if he is unaware of Marxist theory and dialectics, he would readily accept the revolutionary method and its conclusions. With those petty-bourgeois-minded elements who have gone through academic training it is worse. Since, “Their theoretical prejudices have already been given finished form at the school bench. Inasmuch as they succeeded in gaining a great deal of knowledge both useful and useless without the aid of the dialectic, they believe that they can continue excellently through life without it. In reality they dispense with the dialectic only to the extent they fail to check, to polish, and to sharpen theoretically their tools of thought, and to the extent that they fail to break practically from the narrow circle of their daily relationships. When thrown against great events they are easily lost and relapse again into petty-bourgeois ways of thinking.” (ibid.)

Such elements untrained and untested in the class struggle must not be placed in responsible positions in the organisation. Moreover, those elements that come from the petty-bourgeois milieu or prove incapable of settling in the proletarian milieu as they have a petty-bourgeois mindset should, as Trotsky rightfully noted, be transferred to the status of sympathisers from party membership if they had undeservedly become party members. Also, if petty-bourgeois intellectual elements should not be trained in the work of winning worker members to the party there is the danger of turning the party into a discussion club which might seem bright in appearance. “No matter how talented and devoted to socialism an emigrant from the bourgeois milieu may be, before becoming a teacher, he must first go to school in the working class. Young intellectuals must not be placed at the head of the intellectual youth but sent out into the provinces for a few years, into the purely proletarian centers, for hard practical work.” (ibid.) And Trotsky emphasizes that the same rules must be applied to the youth organization and adds “otherwise we run the danger of educating good young elements into revolutionary dilettantes and not revolutionary fighters.” (ibid.)

These organisational rules defended by Lenin with heart and soul while he was creating a real Bolshevik organisation, also accepted and reiterated years later by Trotsky must be defended today as well. The point is, defence of these rights must not remain on paper and an organisational line that will enable them to be put into practice must be followed patiently and resolutely. The disposition of Stalinism in this respect does not require much word, which hollowed out and betrayed Bolshevism after Lenin’s death and created an organisational-political reality particular to the ruling bureaucracy. And, what is the situation with the followers of Trotsky who named his organisation in his rightful struggle against Stalinism as Leninist-Bolsheviks? Leaving aside any exceptions that might exist, Trotskyism, which claims to be the heir of Trotsky, has made a history that reflects the splitting and falling to pieces in petty-bourgeois strife of the Fourth International even in its initial stages. And this reality still holds today.

Let us examine for a moment various Trotskyist groups and organisations that come from fragments of the Fourth International which in its outset accepted the decisions of Comintern in Lenin’s time. There are plenty of those who claim to represent Trotsky’s line in a most successful way but determine a political and organisational orientation on the basis of the reformist-Menshevik line of the Second International. Likewise there are many Trotskyists who praise themselves claiming that they give a great importance to theory, but in practice turn their organisational milieu into a discussion club in a petty-bourgeois fashion. Trotsky’s warnings for these kinds of elements that we mentioned above are so relevant and striking that it would in fact be sufficient without much word to say that Trotskyism has much to learn from Trotsky.

Let us underline an important issue. The question of “organisational democracy” is number one question exploited by those Trotskyist individuals and groups who seek to discredit the Leninist conception of party and distance themselves from an organisational practice that materialise this conception. Soft-time socialists who are unable to withstand hardships find revolutionary organisations of the working class with Bolshevik traits too much tough and anti-democratic. It is obvious that without organisational democracy it is impossible at all to create and maintain the much desired revolutionary party of the working class. On the other hand, without revolutionary discipline it is also impossible to carry on the revolutionary struggle and advance it. In fact, conceived in a correct way, it is easy to understand that the Leninist conception of party is based on the dialectical unity of these two elements. Any Trotskyist who does not have an intention to openly come up against the Leninist conception of party must conceive and openly admit that there cannot be even slightest similarity between a loose party regime that gives comfort to petty-bourgeois socialists and operation of the revolutionary class party. What is more, if Lenin’s teaching is not to be heeded, we have the words of a mature Trotsky who has drawn inspiration from Lenin: “It was not flexibility that served (nor should it serve today) as the basic trait of Bolshevism but rather granite hardness. It was precisely of this quality, for which its enemies and opponents reproached it, that Bolshevism was always justly proud. Not blissful ‘optimism’ but intransigence, vigilance, revolutionary distrust, and the struggle for every hand’s breadth of independence; these are the essential traits of Bolshevism.” (Third International After Lenin)

Either you are inside the struggle or completely outside

Starting from the level of revolutionary nucleus and building and developing the revolutionary vanguard organisation of the working class in a principled, planned, determined and patient way constitutes the essence of the Leninist conception of party. And this conception contains the task of bringing revolutionary consciousness to the class. However, there are various Trotskyist groups that interpret this conception of party as an imposition from outside and come up against it with an unprincipled and loose conception of organisation that exaggerates the role of spontaneous actions of the working class. For many years these groups keep on iterating similar criticisms on “bringing revolutionary consciousness to the class”. As part of these criticisms they advance as proof the assertion that Lenin revised and changed his ideas formulated in What is to be Done written in 1902 in his work Collection Twelve Years published later. According to this argument, with the passing of years, Lenin discovered the power of spontaneous actions of the class and making a reassessment in retrospect admitted he had been wrong about bringing revolutionary consciousness to the class. These arguments do not fit into the reality. They are, in the last analysis, products of a conception that evades the task of creating the revolutionary party of the class and that put the responsibility on the spontaneous movement of the working class. Yet Lenin put forward extremely important ideas about building the revolutionary party of the class and bringing revolutionary consciousness to the class since his earlier works such as A Letter to a Comrade, Where to Begin and What is to be Done. He later developed these ideas and proved the truth of this organisational line with the reality of the Bolshevik Party he led.

As early as 1990 which was a turning point when a storm was bringing down the bureaucratic regimes we noted a very important issue about organisational questions in our writings written in light of revolutionary lessons of the past and in the context of the task of a renewal. In his What is to be Done Lenin brought a clarification to the question of revolutionary consciousness when he made a seminal distinction between producing revolutionary consciousness and bringing revolutionary consciousness to the class. It is crucial to make this distinction. Production of revolutionary consciousness is a task in the realm of producing revolutionary Marxist theory and developing it and there is a revolutionary activity based on the knowledge accumulation of long time. However, the essential problem is the question of how this revolutionary theory, which, in the first place, rests upon magnificent revolutionary accumulation and work of the founders of Marxism, will be brought to the vanguard elements of the class. No matter what they say, as Lenin defended throughout whole his lifetime, revolutionary consciousness does not spontaneously arise within the ranks of the working class. Spontaneous struggle of the working class can at best create militant vanguard workers at trade-union and general democratic struggle. To advance class struggle beyond the level of spontaneous trade-union and general democratic struggle, that is, in the framework of overthrowing capitalism and building revolutionary workers power, requires building of a revolutionary vanguard party and a corresponding level of political work. The organisational task of this level requires arming fellow leading workers and militant vanguard workers who are brought to the forefront by mass economic-democratic struggle of the class with revolutionary consciousness.

Lenin always took seriously spontaneous mass struggle of the class and waves of revolt on this basis, but always pointed to limitations of this struggle. To overcome this he tried to make Bolshevism prevail in working class struggle. He waged a determined struggle against tendencies such as economism, worship of spontaneity and mass tailism. As in What is to be Done so in following years Lenin tirelessly criticised those tendencies that lead the working class to an impasse within narrow limits of trade-union struggle and highs and lows of spontaneous upsurges. He contended that this impasse can only be overcome through creating the vanguard revolutionary party of the class. He fulfilled his case by the plan and effort to build the Bolshevik Party. On the basis of this historical example it needs to be emphasized that revolutionary consciousness is surely brought to class struggle by the vanguard party of the class. And, making remarks in an effort to carry Lenin’s revolutionary line to the future Trotsky makes an emphasis on every occasion to the role of the party in carrying consciousness to the class. He says, “Party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious.”

Bringing revolutionary consciousness to the class is not a task that can be fulfilled without participating in the life and struggle of the class. As Trotsky said, “The study of Marxism outside the revolutionary struggle can create bookworms but not revolutionaries. Participation in the revolutionary struggle without the study of Marxism is unavoidably full of danger, uncertainty, half-blindness. To study Marxism as a Marxist is possible only by participating in the life and struggle of the class; revolutionary theory is verified by practice, and practice is clarified by theory. Only the truths of Marxism that are conquered in struggle enter the mind and the blood.” (“To the Spanish Youth”, in Spanish Revolution)

The emphasis on bringing consciousness to the class never implies a practice outside the organising struggle carried inside the working class such as certain intellectuals giving “revolutionary education” to workers. It is impossible for those who deem members in a socialist party from intellectual backgrounds as “teachers” and worker members as “students whose brains are to be poured consciousness into from outside” to understand Lenin in a correct way. Nowhere in Lenin’s formulations ever there is an emphasis of “outside” other than carrying revolutionary consciousness to the class “outside the realm of economic struggle.” Therefore one should not pay much attention to those attitudes that carry on unnecessary polemics on “inside or outside” which amount to intellectual occupation.

Without vanguardship of the revolutionary party spontaneous struggle of the working masses cannot advance to the point of overthrowing capitalism. Without revolutionary vanguard, mass struggle would be condemned to roll back from the peaks every time it reached and the masses in struggle go back to their habitual daily life. Without arming those leading elements of the class with revolutionary consciousness through the organised struggle of the revolutionary vanguard, they cannot spontaneously transcend the limits of trade-union struggle. To claim that socialist consciousness would arise in the working masses spontaneously with the progress of economic-democratic struggle means to attempt to skip over the question of revolutionary party in an intellectual craftiness. It is surely possible that combative workers with their class senses move to the point of the necessity of getting rid of capitalist system. But this does not mean achieving socialist consciousness and being armed with socialist consciousness. The achievement of socialist consciousness by vanguard and combative workers is not something to be completed through spontaneous leaps accomplished in their own space of senses and feelings. On the basis of construction of the vanguard organisation of the class, vanguard-combative workers must be elevated to the level of being direct elements of this effort.

No one can bring back the past on correct foundations with mistakes deleted out. But at least it is possible to draw lessons from past experiences to advance the struggle today. Proletarian struggle demands the honest revolutionary Marxist take an attitude in this direction, face their mistakes, renew themselves through drawing a revolutionary balance sheet and leap forward in order to build the new by arming themselves with the revolutionary lessons of historical experiences. It should be kept in mind that in the present world where objective conditions are fully ripe for the world working class to overthrow capitalism the task of creating the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat is as much important. To cope with this task and move on, the hindrance that has been posed by the past years’ worldwide negative legacy on organisational area must be overcome. These are the fundamental pillars of how internationalist communists, who do not lose their historical optimism and, when necessary, dare to swim against the current, understand duties of the day both on a national and international level.