Sunday, 21 May 2023

Social-Imperialism and Ukraine - Part 31 of 37

In Part 30, I responded to the argument by the AWL that claimed that Trotsky had "supported" bourgeois-democracy, in Spain, by admitting that the revolutionaries had fought "under the command" of the Popular Front government.  I set out that the Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries had also had to accept the reality that they had to fight "under the command" of imperialist states in WWI and II.  Marxists work "under the command" of capital, every day that they go to work under capitalism.

Did any of this constitute support for the bourgeois/imperialist governments under whose command the Bolsheviks had to fight? Of course not, and nor did the fact that the few hundred Trotskyists in Spain had to fight under the command of the Popular Front government, in any way, mean that they supported that government, just as, in 1917, when the Red Guards went to stop the advance of Kornilov on St. Petersburg, against Kerensky's government, it did not mean support for the Provisional Government of Kerensky!

The AWL present this argument under the heading of “Why and how Marxists pick sides”, but, in none of these cases was this a question of Marxists “picking sides”, which implies an application of active support on the basis of lesser-evilism, and “my enemy's enemy is my friend”.

It was either a case of Marxists being too weak to do anything other than accept the reality in which they find themselves, or else that they make their own choice to fight an enemy – Kornilov, Franco and so on – and find themselves, in doing so, temporary allies of their class enemy. In neither case does it involve Marxists making a conscious choice to pick a side to support!  If that were the case, it would mean taking their use of the example provided by Trotsky in "Learn To Think", that in a war between fascist Italy and "democratic" France, the Marxists picked the side of fascist Italy!!!!

What the AWL propose in that case is campism. That is precisely what Trotsky set out in “Learn To Think”. We do not say, this side best meets our needs, or fits our moral outlook, and align with it. Rather we say this is where our interests lie, this is our enemy against whom we will fight, irrespective of the decisions of others. It is the antithesis of “picking a side”. It means, as Trotsky sets out, in Learn To Think, that we can continue to be opposed to both, or all of the other “sides”, in order to pursue our own class interests, rather than becoming mere cheerleaders for someone else on the basis of lesser-evilism.

But, the AWL's description of the position in relation to Spain is also duplicitous. They talk about the Republican Government “under whose command” the few hundred Trotskyists found themselves forced to fight, as a bourgeois government, and avoid discussion of it as a Popular Front government containing a minority of liberal politicians, who represented no real social forces, (as the bourgeoisie had already gone over to Franco) along with the centrists of the Anarchist CNT (1.5 million members), POUM (40,000 members), Spanish socialists (several hundred thousand members), and Communist Party (10,000 members, though, at the start, it had less than 1,000). What the AWL/USC fail to point out, when they say,

“And this in a situation where Spain, unlike Ukraine now, had a mass revolutionary workers’ movement not far off the possible conquest of power – a movement the Republican government attacked and ultimately suppressed.”

is that its large majority, reflected in these representatives in the Popular Front, was not comprised of revolutionaries but centrists, i.e. veering between reformism and revolutionary politics, and that the only consistent revolutionary forces, i.e. those of the Trotskyists, were tiny, amounting to just a few hundred. They fail to point out that, rather than these revolutionaries “picking the side” of the Republican government, Trotsky consistently demanded that the centrists, within the government, as a popular front government, break from it, just as the Bolsheviks had demanded such a break with the Russian Provisional Government in 1917, demanding “Down With The Capitalist Ministers”! What is more, Trotsky also describes why, even if the centrists had broken with the Popular Front, and established a Workers Government, the Bolsheviks would not have joined it. So much for “support”!

Similarly, in China, despite the KMT being overwhelmingly the largest party leading the national independence struggle, Trotsky argued forcefully against the betrayal (at the time he still characterised it as a mistake) of the Stalinists, who argued that the Chinese Communists had to operate under the command of Chiang Kai Shek, and then, after he slaughtered thousands of communists, in Shanghai, repeated the betrayal by calling on them to subordinate themselves to the Left KMT of Wang Chin Wei.

And, what did “fighting under the command of” mean? Trotsky, never called on the revolutionaries to take that as meaning simply subordinating themselves to the Provisional Government, and accepting all of its instructions and so on. Quite the contrary, the whole thrust of his position, going back to his attacks on the position of Stalin, in relation to the subordination of the Chinese Communists to the KMT, was the necessity of maintaining a strict organisational and political independence! The Spanish Trotskyists did not pick the side of the Republican government, but implemented a rational strategy of opposing the immediate danger posed by Franco, and, as a consequence, found themselves in temporary tactical alliances with the much larger forces of the Republican government. That was simply a condition forced on them by material conditions, and their own weakness.

As Trotsky also wrote in relation to WWII.

“We must of course fight against the war not only “until the very last moment” but during the war itself when it begins. We must however give to our fight against the war its fully revolutionary sense, opposing and pitilessly denouncing pacifism. The very simple and very great idea of our fight against the war is: we are against the war but we will have the war if we are incapable of overthrowing the capitalists.”

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