A political obituary to Cliff Slaughter as a Trotskyist


25/07/2017 by socialistfight

The neo-Kautskyite Movement for Socialism

By Gerry Downing

Image result for István Mészáros imagesNot without a storm: communist manifesto for the age of globalisation                                Hugo Chávez meets  István Mészáros in 2008 to sanctify two stage revolution and socialism in a single country in Beyond Capital; Cliff Slaughter meets István Mészáros and his Stalinist ideology in Not without a Storm in 2006 and many other works.
This document is an excerpt from In Defence of Trotskyism No. 2, Summer 2011, which deals with the Movement for Socialism, which was a successor organization of the WRP (Workers Press). It recounts how the MfS renounced Trotskyism via the Stalinist István Mészáros, author of Beyond Capital.

In the Swamp they will meet more neo-Kautskyites like the MfS. We now turn to the leader of this current, Cliff Slaughter. Gerry Downing has produced the only political analysis of the Slaughterite WRP from the split with Healy in October 1985 to 1990 in his WRP Explosion book available online by googling “Gerry Downing’s documents” on Scribd. Two central points of that account need emphasising now. As the period of open discussion came to an end in the WRP/Workers Press in 1986 the leaders began to assert that ‘the miners were not defeated’ in their great strike of 1984-5. The political content of that idiotic assertion was that there were no questions to be asked of Arthur Scargill’s leadership of that strike.

Healy had banned even tactical criticisms (which was all there was) of Scargill in the pages of the News Line after the Mansfield demonstration in May 1984, less than three months into the strike. He subsequently enforced the withdrawal of the WRP members from the Miners’ Support Groups. Via the News Line he then slandered the initiative of Malcolm Pitt, the Kent miners’ leader and the group campaigning for justice for Colin Roach, in calling a joint meeting of the NUM, the PLO, Sinn Fein and the Black community.[5] This was an attempt to discredit the NUM by associating them with terrorism charged the News Line and he further implied that this was the work of police agents operating in the justice for Colin Roach campaign. Of course, this had deadly consequences for the WRP’s relationship with the Black community.

It indicated a narrow capitulation to Scargill’s bureaucratic approach (however left-wing that was) and a rejection of an orientation by the WRP to the wider social issues that the miners’ strike raised; the identification of the miners’ communities under siege in Yorkshire in particular with the republican communities in the north of Ireland and with the Palestinian masses in the West Bank and Gaza, the women’s support groups and the lesbian and gay communities and the Black community, all now so encouraged to fight for their rights with increased confidence because the socialist millennium hovered into view. What better time to raise these questions forcefully than in 1984-84, how brave of the ‘Stalinist’ Malcolm Pitt to raise these issues in this way and how cowardly of Healy and the WRP to sabotage this initiative. WRP stewards were attacked and hospitalised at a Young Socialist disco in Mile End by outraged supporters of Colin Roach because of this.

The second was the equally ludicrous assertion that “Stalinism was the most counter-revolutionary force on the planet”. Once that position was accepted by the group its pro-Imperialism was established. Details of its evolution since then are available online but for political analysis, we turn to Slaughter’s Not without a Storm, Index books, 2006. The general political and theoretical level of the book from the man who was once correctly regarded as the WRP’s chief theoretician is abysmal. Comparing it to Counterfire’s John Rees’s Algebra of Revolution (Routledge 1998) for instance, it is obviously several leagues below the standard necessary to train new layers of revolutionary cadre. In fact, as we shall see, its purpose is to reject revolutionary socialism in its entirety and rationalise an abandonment of that struggle. We do not endorse the SWP’s politics but Rees does tackle those issues at the appropriate level and makes many correct criticisms and analyses. A critical analysis and reply to that are obviously well beyond Slaughter’s and the MfS’s ability now given their political orientation.

What is to be Done?

When Cliff Slaughter wrote a reply to the SWP on Lenin’s 1903 What is to be Done? back in the 1970s, he made some excellent points on their politics still relevant and correct today; their economism, tailing of the consciousness of the working class (pay the firemen, dockers, post workers etc, etc), their belief that revolutionary consciousness was produced by strike struggles, etc. When he drew the conclusions on the type of internal party regime necessary for a revolutionary party he ignored the subsequent reassessment that Lenin himself made in the light of the failed revolution of 1905 and the emergence of the Soviets as explained by Marcel Liebman in Leninism under Lenin. The SWP were subsequently to adopt the same bureaucratic centralist internal regime in imitation of both Healy and Ted Grant’s Militant. Internal oppositions and critics are forced out as quickly as possible lest they influence too many, supposedly saving the party from the penetration of ‘bourgeois ideology’ (an impossible task) but in reality, saving it from the problems of internal democracy which might challenge and displace an old and degenerating leadership. Healy should have gone years, nay decades before 1985 but there were no means of replacing him democratically.

But genuine democratic centralism is possible, we can forge a regime of ‘seething internal democracy’ as Trotsky described the Bolshevik’s organisational culture, with maximum internal discussion, acceptance of tendencies and factions as a normal part of the conflicts between serious revolutionaries with developed political critical faculties and maximum unity of action to test out the majority will and political judgements in action. Democratic centralism does not have to be bureaucratic centralism.

Slaughter begins by declaring that the opening sentence of Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Programme; “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterised by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat” and again “the historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership” was central to their (the old WRP’s) thinking (p. 276). And he then goes on: “and this struggle simply required the replacement of one leadership (the present reformist one) with our own, the revolutionary one, of course”.

Of course, this is a serious distortion. In the first quote, Trotsky refers principally to the current existing leadership of the trade unions and the bourgeois-workers parties, and the second quote (after “again”) to the struggle for revolutionary leadership against the Stalinists and centrist groups like the SWP and the Militant/SPEW on how to fight the existing reformist leaders of the mass parties of the working class. The intervening section between the two quotes and the entire TP is dedicated to expounding on the relationship between these two sentences. As the whole of the TP is about how to fight this battle we can see that the WRP practically ceased this struggle in 1974 with the expulsion of its substantial working class base in Oxford, the comrades who later became the WSL. This was the second time they had acquired a substantial working class base and bureaucratically expelled its leadership, the first being the Communist Party base that came with Brian Behan and others after they joined following the 1956 crisis of the Communist Party.

The WRP’s leading trade unionists after 1984 were Dave Temple in the North East and Peter Gibson, convenor of the London Buses Committee. Gibson, as leader of the bogus All Trades Union Alliance, was as bureaucratic a leader as any other group produced, scarcely better than the Stalinists. The relationship with Ted Knight and Ken Livingstone was as unprincipled and opportunist as any Stalinist group operated. They even championed the leader of the Steelworkers union, the arch right-wing bureaucrat Bill Sirs, in their unbridled opportunism. That was the meaning of the ‘miners were not defeated’, there was no transitional method operating in the WRP on this; either sectarian denunciations (as David North’s SEP has developed to ridiculous extremes) or opportunist manoeuvres with left and even right Labour party and trade union bureaucrats via the bogus All Trade Union Alliance. This trade union work bore no relationship to Trotsky’s Transitional Programme whatsoever.

 Image result for Cliff Slaughter Trotskyist images

Cliff Slaughter; from Stalinism to Trotskyism in 1956 and back to Stalinism in 2006 in his book Not Without a Storm.

The insight of István Mészáros

But to escape from this unacknowledged opportunism we must:

“Learn and develop the insight of István Mészáros in the closing chapters of Beyond Capital that the future mass socialist movement will be inherent pluralism, with its component parts developing through their growing and necessary ability to co-ordinate their efforts (and thus achieve class consciousness not to accept ‘control’ (and a supposed ‘revolutionary consciousness’ already formed by professed Marxists from above).” Cliff Slaughter, International Socialist Forum. A Contribution to Discussion on ‘Revolutionary Socialism: The Minimum Platform, http://www.kandokav.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/isf_102_Minimum_platform1.pdf

It is not possible to imagine a more complete rejection of Marxism than that. In 1960 Cliff Slaughter knew enough about Trotskyism to write a relatively good article called What is Revolutionary Leadership, even if we know that he was in reality defending Healy’s bureaucratic centralism, not genuine democratic centralism. Nonetheless the theory is substantially correct. And he was able to produce a Gramsci quote (albeit one over-relying on the organisational aspects and not sufficiently on the political ones) to repudiate this Mészáros nonsense, then the property of ‘the revisionists’:

“The decisive element in every situation is the force, permanently organized and pre-ordered over a long period, which can be advanced when one judges that the situation is favourable (and it is favourable only to the extent to which such a force exists and is full of fighting ardour); therefore, the essential task is that of paying systematic and patient attention to forming and developing this force, rendering it ever more homogeneous, compact, conscious of itself.”

Antonio Gramsci. As quoted by Cliff Slaughter in, What is Revolutionary Leadership? http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/slaughter/1960/10/leadership.html

Lenin did ‘bend the stick’

Lenin did ‘bend the stick’ in the manner (but not the essence) of his rejection of the spontaneous development of class consciousness by the working class when he directed his fire against the economists (and the present-day SWP) with his ‘bringing class consciousness to the working class from outside’. However he was not totally incorrect, as Mészáros and Slaughter suggest, he was only one-sided. The economists were totally wrong, he was just half-right against them and he corrected his mistake after 1905. He did come to understand that the Bolsheviks had to ‘merge in a certain sense’ with the working class whilst still sharply posing as an opposite, a revolutionary consciousness opposed to their reformist, trade union consciousness after the unexpected appearance of the 1905 soviets. What is to be Done led them to initially oppose these soviets on Kautskyite politics (not totally capitulate to as the above suggests). They thought that, like Germany and Kautsky, the Bolsheviks would become the ‘party of the whole class’, (thus un-dialectically substituting party for class) and via that party the ideology of the class would advance internally to revolutionary class consciousness. It was a mechanical, non-revolutionary, un-dialectical Kautskyite understanding of the relationship between party and class; it led to absolute disaster in Germany 1919-23 because it promoted an unprincipled compromise with the trade union bureaucracy, increasingly corrupt and pro-capitalist since legalisation in 1890 (though Marx’s The Critique of the Gotha Program showed this had been present since the fusion of Eisenachers and Lassallean in 1875). However history records that Lenin and the Bolsheviks overcame this legacy sufficiently to make a revolution in Russia in 1917.

Slaughter’s and Mészáros’s present day formulation of the relationship between party and class is neo-Kautskyite and eminently appropriate to the politics of the Swamp into which the MfS has sunk. Slaughter’s apology to Mike Banda (“I owe to Mike Banda the clear statement of this p278) is a measure of his personal degeneration. This apology is because he now agrees with Mike that “the post war Trotskyists had no perspectives for the revolution whereas Lenin and Trotsky had one (at first different, then in 1917, the same)… even Mao had his for China” is appalling. Mike Banda’s brother Tony famously denounced Trotskyism as a ‘rotten rope’ in 1985 on Mike’s behalf, Slaughter now agrees with him. Ridiculously he proposes that Lenin’s pre-1917 orientation (the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry) constituted an adequate perspective for the revolution whereas the truth is the revolution was lost without the repudiation of that orientation and the transformation of the party into a weapon for the overthrow of capitalism via the April Theses.

Most shockingly of all Slaughter says that Mao Zedong’s block of four classes perspective was correct in 1949 as against post war Trotskyism. Third world popular frontism trumps post war class struggle Trotskyism, with all their Transitional Programmes and class independence struggles for the overthrow of capitalism (deeply flawed though these programmes were) is the message. No, a thousand times no, the class deserves far better than reformism hidden behind pseudo-revolutionary phrases like this!

The infamous Chapter 8 and Mészáros’s ‘structural crisis’

Now we come to the infamous Chapter 8 where practically every sentence and phrase contains a historical distortion or a deeply flawed political analysis, full of historical lies with at least one blatantly open lie. Apparently “only now – as Mészáros above all has established – have we entered the period in which capitalism encounters its structural crisis, its historic crisis” (p280). This is a piece of anti-Marxist objectivism, ultra-left bluster designed to hide the deeply reactionary orientation of the group. This formulation has the smack of third period Stalinism which Stalin decreed had begun in 1928 when capitalism had survived its first period, the revolutionary offensive of 1917-23, then the second period of stabilisation of 1924 to 28 and was now entering its third period, its final crisis where its final overthrow was inevitable. Trotsky pointed out the obvious answer to this third period nonsense; capitalism would never reach its final crisis until the working class had forged a revolutionary leadership which could lead it to overthrow the entire system:

“To the Comintern, a decisive and final revolutionary upheaval was afoot and all its sections had to prepare for the immediate advent of world revolution. As part of this theory, because the Comintern felt that conditions were strong enough, it demanded that its political positions within the workers’ movement be consolidated and that all “reactionary” elements be purged. Accordingly, attacks and expulsions were launched against social democrats and moderate socialists within labor unions where the local CP had majority support, as well as Trotskyists and united front proponents”. (Wikipedia).”

This ultra-left nonsense was directly responsible for the victory of Hitler in 1933. Although we must say that whatever the Stalinised Comintern intended this objectivism was the leftist basis for a wave of class struggle which did much good work; the London Busmen’s Rank and File Movement was a product of this and so were many other militant workers’ strikes. Many have argued that when these were betrayed by the Comintern adoption of the Popular Front in 1935 many unreconstructed third period Stalinists, like Gerry Healy, became Trotskyists in reaction and in name only. There is only a grain of truth in this claim, in our opinion.

What is meant by Mészáros’s ‘structural crisis’? Is this some version of the French philosophical ‘Structuralist Marxism’; “a sociological bundle theory developed by Louis Althusser? Althusser argued that humans have no intrinsic qualities (or essence), but were socially produced accidents. These accidents are the creation of social structures, and describing them allows us to describe both humans and the human condition” (Wikipedia).

In an interview: A structural crisis of the system with Socialist Review conducted by Judith Orr and Patrick Ward, January 2009, Mészáros spells it out:

“We have reached the historical limits of capital’s ability to control society. I don’t mean just banks and building societies, even though they cannot control those, but the rest…The only feasible alternative is the working class which is the producer of everything which is necessary in our life. Why should they not be in control of what they produce? I always stress in every book that saying no is relatively easy, but we have to find the positive dimension.”

This piece of vague objectivism combined with a utopian Owenite appeal to ‘reason’ has nothing to do with Marxism. Of course we have not “reached the historical limits of capital’s ability to control society”, their repressive state forces are very much intact and will continue to control society until the mass movement of the working class overthrows capitalism and institutes socialism on a global scale. This is presumably what he means by “the rest”, although we cannot see how he can claim that they cannot control the banks and building societies, they had just bailed them out at enormous expense to the taxpayers internationally precisely “controlling” them to serve free market capitalism and they are now “controlling” the virtual destruction of the welfare states internationally to force the working class to pay for this largess. Apparently we will get “the only feasible alternative” by looking to the ‘positive dimension’; a better attitude will do wonders! So it is small wonder that such left bourgeois figures as Hugo Chávez find this view very attractive: “István Mészáros illuminates the path ahead. He points to the central argument we must make in order . . . to take to the offensive throughout the world in moving toward socialism.”

This, apparently, is how will we advance. No need for any of these tiresome Transitional Programmes to mobilise the masses, a bit of moral outrage will do the trick:

“One hedge fund manager has allegedly been involved in a $50 billion swindle. General Motors and the others were only asking the US government for $14 billion. How modest! They should be given $100 billion. If one hedge fund capitalist can organise an alleged $50 billion fraud, they should get all the funds feasible. A system that operates in this morally rotten way cannot possibly survive, because it is uncontrollable.”

We are afraid that class society “as corrupt as this” has survived for some seven to nine millennia and will continue to survive until we can marshal the revolutionary forces to get rid of it. It certainly will not fall into our hands because its time is up and it is thoroughly corrupt, like some silly version of the Hollywood movie, The Fall of the Roman Empire. Mészáros has written a huge (1000 page +) book, Beyond Capital (Merlin Press 1995) covering almost every aspect of communism and capitalism so perhaps we will find our answer on how to organise the revolution there? Given our understanding of how important it is to fight the treacherous misleadership of the working class and the fight for a new revolutionary leadership to make new Octobers surely Mészáros will have examined this question in detail in his 1000 + pages?

Disgraceful wiping of Trotsky

If we look at the index at the back we find that Joe Stalin gets 70 mentions, VI Lenin 47, Margaret Thatcher 39, Rosa Luxemburg 32, Georg Lukács 27 and Trotsky only gets 8. And there is only one examination of any length, on pages 636 to 638, the rest are only passing references; he was at a meeting etc. But we will be enlightened on Trotsky’s contribution to the theories vital to revolutionary socialists to pursue their cause in these three vital, precious pages? Well no, all we get is a banality that Trotsky opposed Stalin’s theory of socialism in a single country and the well-known quote about how Stalin altered his Lenin and Leninism after 1924 to make it say the exact opposite of what it said before 1924. Here is Trotsky quoting Stalin:

“The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a proletarian government in one country does not yet guarantee the complete victory of socialism. The main task of socialism, the organisation of socialist production, still lies ahead. Can this task be accomplished, can the victory of socialism in one country be attained, without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible. For the final victory of socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia are insufficient.” (Stalin, Lenin and Leninism, p. 40.)

Here without doubt (says Trotsky) the general position of the Bolshevik Party is correctly expressed. However, in the second edition, published a few months later, these lines were withdrawn and the exact opposite put in their place:

But the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the power of the proletariat in one country does not yet mean that the complete victory of socialism has been assured. After consolidating its power and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society” (Stalin, Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 110, my emphasis.)

But this disgraceful wiping of Trotsky from the historical (and pictorial!) record, so common in Stalinists (and former Stalinists like Mészáros) is accompanied by a sly attempt to drag Trotsky’s close ally, Christian Rakovsky into the scheme. Rakovsky had sought the psychological reasons for the retreat from revolution of the leading cadres of revolution in the years of reaction after 1924 and Mészáros uses this to pretend that he had developed a crass idealism which inverted cause and effect. He cannot find a killer quote so he makes his own proposition as if it naturally flowed from Rakovsky:

“The privilege-seeking psychology and its ideological determinations rightly deplored by Rakovsky and his comrades is grounded in these objective determinations and power relations” (p639)

“These objective determinations” turn out to be the alienation of labour he had just discussed at length, not the material reasons for that alienation. Indeed no comrade Mészáros, this “privilege-seeking psychology” was grounded in the defeat of the German Revolution which ensured material want and scarcity of life’s goods in Russia and therefore inequality. This led in turn to the rise of a bureaucracy, which never forgot its own privileges when distributing those goods; the ‘old crap’ of capitalism inevitably arose anew in those circumstances. And here we can see that our first supposition about the meaning of the word ‘structural’ in the Mészáros quote used by Slaughter was substantially correct. This nonsense is a hangover from that idealist French philosophical fad of Althusser and Claude Levi-Strauss. Comrade Slaughter could re-educate himself on this by referring back to an article in an old Labour Review, where Stuart Hood comprehensively demolished this bogus ‘philosophy’:

“To him (Levi-Strauss) all human activities are types of communication, whether they be myths, social customs, kinship rules, economic relations, dress or eating habits; they are all structured like language. By studying them he aimed ‘to discover the universal basic structure of man which is hidden below the surface’ and manifests itself in social phenomena. This is an aim that runs clean contrary to a fundamental tenet of Marxism, on which Marx stated in the 1859 Preface to the Critique of Political Economy: It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Labour Review, February 1979, Vol. II, No 9, pp545-6)

Image result for István Mészáros and Cliff Slaughter images

Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution “is meaningless”

As we shall see if Slaughter is right about socialism not being on the agenda in 1917 then Trotsky’s famous theory of Permanent Revolution is meaningless and without content, the Russian Revolution was merely a bourgeois national revolution, and so is the political content of the struggle of the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Trotsky and its international manifestation, the Revolutionary Comintern in its revolutionary phase when it fought for the world revolution in its first four Congresses up to 1924. In order to achieve this volte face Slaughter capitulates to both Kautskyism in accepting the old Social Democratic theories of the party and of stages in the revolution and goes even further than Tony Cliff’s state capitalism in attribution a historically progressive historic role to Stalinism:

 “An attempt to elaborate an exception to the theory was made by Tony Cliff of the Socialist Workers Party (Britain), in his “Theory of Deflected Permanent Revolution”. In his 1963 essay Deflected Permanent Revolution he develops the idea that where the proletariat is unable to take power, a section of the intelligentsia may be able to carry out a Bourgeois Revolution.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_revolution).

Unbelievably Slaughter repudiates the entire history of Trotskyism and his own life’s work (deeply flawed though it was) and there was no one left in his group to object. He avers not merely that there were some exceptions to the theory of Permanent Revolution; the entire thing was always rubbish according to our renegade.

To continue this assault Slaughter writes on the same page, “Trotsky wrote that the coming revolution would undoubtedly be bourgeois in character”. Presented thus with a full stop at the end this is the first lie because so did both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, there is nothing ‘Trotskyist’ about this statement, you would have to qualify this statement very heavily to explain the contending political positions. In fact, the statement as written can only apply to the Mensheviks. Fortunately, Trotsky sums it all up for us:

The Three Views Summed Up

“… The Menshevik (similar) attitude toward the revolution…: The victory of the Russian bourgeois revolution is conceivable only under the leadership of the liberal bourgeoisie and must hand over power to the latter. The democratic regime will then permit the Russian proletariat to catch up with its older Western brothers on the road of the struggle for socialism with incomparably greater success than hitherto.

Lenin’s perspective may be briefly expressed as follows: The belated Russian bourgeoisie is incapable of leading its own revolution to the end. The complete victory of the revolution through the medium of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” will purge the country of medievalism, invest the development of Russian capitalism with American tempos, strengthen the proletariat in the city and country, and open up broad possibilities for the struggle for socialism. On the other hand, the victory of the Russian revolution will provide a mighty impulse for the socialist revolution in the West, and the latter will not only shield Russia from the dangers of restoration but also permit the Russian proletariat to reach the conquest of power in a comparatively short historical interval.

The perspective of the permanent revolution may be summed up in these words: The complete victory of the democratic revolution in Russia is inconceivable otherwise than in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat basing itself on the peasantry. The dictatorship of the proletariat, which will inescapably place on the order of the day not only democratic but also socialist tasks, will at the same time provide a mighty impulse to the international socialist revolution. Only, the victory of the proletariat in the West will shield Russia from bourgeois restoration and secure for her the possibility of bringing the socialist construction to its conclusion.

These terse formulations reveal with equal clarity both the homogeneity of the last two conceptions in their irreconcilable contradiction with the liberal-Menshevik perspective as well as their extremely essential difference from one another on the question of the social character and the tasks of the “dictatorship” which was to grow out of the revolution… The perspective of Menshevism was false to the core: it pointed out an entirely different road for the proletariat. The perspective of Bolshevism was not complete; it indicated correctly the general direction of the struggle but characterized its stages incorrectly. The inadequacy of the perspective of Bolshevism was not revealed in 1905 only because the revolution itself did not receive further development. But at the beginning of 1917 Lenin was compelled, in a direct struggle against the oldest cadres of the party, to change the perspective (i.e. Lenin’s victorious fight for the April Theses).”  Trotsky, Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution, 1939.

Slaughter’s blatant lie

Slaughter continues, “He (Trotsky) went on to question which classes would solve the task of the democratic revolution and how those classes would relate to each other”. Trotsky did not ‘question’ this but was absolutely sure that only the working class could lead the revolution and it could not simply be a ‘democratic’ revolution but an ‘uninterrupted’, permanent one. He and the Bolsheviks agreed that only the working class could lead the coming revolution because of the small size and belated development of the bourgeoisie and its subservience to both the Tsar and foreign, mainly French capital. On this point, both were equally opposed to the Mensheviks, as we have seen above. As to actually ‘solve(ing) the task of the democratic revolution’ here Trotsky disagreed with both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. To say he “interrogated Lenin’s formulation of ‘the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ (p281) is wrong.

As to the relationship between the proletariat and peasantry Lenin’s formulation muddled precisely this question, not making it sufficiently clear (the ‘algebraic formula’) that the peasantry could not be on an equal footing with the proletariat precisely because Lenin thought that the coming revolution would be bourgeois led by the working class, period. And now we see the function of the implication above that Trotsky thought the same as Lenin on this point. Trotsky had a great deal more to say from about 1903-5 that was at odds with Lenin’s conception. It was precisely this vagueness that the epigones (Radek, Zinoviev and Stalin) used against Trotsky to revive the Menshevik formula so that in China the national (liberal) bourgeoisie would lead that revolution, leading to the disaster of 1927 in the massacre of the Shanghai Soviet. And here we get the blatant lie. In quoting from Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution (1905) he says,

 “’the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ would”, now comes the Trotsky quote, “Have to carry through to the end the agrarian revolution and democratic reconstruction of the State. In other words, the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry would become the instrument for solving the historically belated task of the historically-belated bourgeois revolution. But having reached power the proletariat would be compelled to encroach ever more deeply on the relationship of private property in general, that is to take the road of socialist measures,”

This is the actual quote from Trotsky:

“What would be the social content of this dictatorship? First of all, it would have to carry through to the end the agrarian revolution and the democratic reconstruction of the State. In other words, the dictatorship of the proletariat would become the instrument for solving the tasks of the historically-belated bourgeois revolution. But the matter could not rest there. Having reached power the proletariat would be compelled to encroach even more deeply upon the relationships of private property in general, that is to take the road of socialist measures.” Leon Trotsky The Permanent Revolution, Introduction to the First (Russian) Edition (Published in Berlin) http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/prre.htm, p5 New Park edition.

The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry

We can see that the bolded and peasantry above (twice) is not in the Trotsky original quote, also bolded. Further Trotsky is referring to the social content of this dictatorship and not what ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’, an entity which Trotsky never endorsed in all his writings, might do. Slaughter has added it in to confuse us on what Trotsky’s real position was.[6] To clarify matters, ‘the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ means a block of the two classes, possibly on an equal footing in government, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ means the working class, via its revolutionary leadership ruling and leading the peasantry in a governmental alliance. There were many occasions when Lenin came very close to Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution as the following passages from the Permanent Revolution show:

Trotsky: “… The formula which the Bolsheviks have here chosen for themselves reads: the proletariat which leads the peasantry behind it.”

Lenin, “… Isn’t it obvious that the idea of all these formulations is one and the same? Isn’t it obvious that this idea expresses precisely the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry – that the “formula” of the proletariat supported by the peasantry, remains entirely within the bounds of that very same dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry?” (XI, Part 1, pp, 219 and 224. My emphasis [10]) And Trotsky comments:

“Thus Lenin puts a construction on the ‘algebraic’ formula here which excludes the idea of an independent peasant party and even more its dominant role in the revolutionary government: the proletariat leads the peasantry, the proletariat is supported by the peasantry, consequently the revolutionary power is concentrated in the hands of the party of the proletariat. But this is precisely the central point of the theory of the permanent revolution. Today, that is, after the historical test has taken place, the utmost that can be said about the old differences of opinion on the question of the dictatorship is the following:

While Lenin, always proceeding from the leading role of the proletariat, emphasized and developed in every way the necessity of the revolutionary democratic collaboration of the workers and peasants – teaching this to all of us – I, invariably proceeding from this collaboration, emphasized in every way the necessity of proletarian leadership, not only in the bloc but also in the government which would be called upon to head this bloc. No other differences can be read into the matter.”

Leon Trotsky, What is the Permanent Revolution? (Chapter 10 of The Permanent Revolution, 1929) Basic Postulates, makes it clearer in point 5;

“5. Assessed historically, the old slogans of Bolshevism – “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” – expressed precisely the above-characterized relationship of the proletariat, the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie. This has been confirmed by the experience of October. But Lenin’s old formula did not settle in advance the problem of what the reciprocal relations would be between the proletariat and the peasantry within the revolutionary bloc. In other words, the formula deliberately retained a certain algebraic quality, which had to make way for more precise arithmetical quantities in the process of historical experience. However, the latter showed, and under circumstances that exclude any kind of misinterpretation, that no matter how great the revolutionary role of the peasantry may be, it nevertheless cannot be an independent role and even less a leading one. The peasant follows either the worker or the bourgeois. This means that the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ is only conceivable as a dictatorship of the proletariat that leads the peasant masses behind it.”

We can see from the above that the political struggles that eventually culminated in the production of the April Theses which enabled the October revolution are absolutely incomprehensible if the question of the world revolution was not on the historic agenda, if global Imperialism had not advanced to the stage that it had produced a global working class with at least strong elements of a global class consciousness, such that in backward Russia the working class consciously fought for and took power in the name of that world revolution. We are meant to get the impression from Slaughter’s meanderings that Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution was merely a formulation for achieving bourgeois revolutions in backward countries. And all this reduces the struggle to the national stage, Slaughter implicitly denies the global significance of Trotsky’s great insight as Mark Hoskisson has done above, with the same intended result.

This is how those dreadful enemies of Slaughter since the mid-fifties, the ‘Pabloites’, have bowdlerised it. And this was also the game that Radek, Zinoviev and later Stalin played in China in the twenties and thirties, the two stage theory that resurrected Lenin’s old formulation repudiated by him in the April Theses, and extended it back and politically reviving the old Menshevism. This was the policy which destroyed the Chinese revolution in 1927 and led to the admired ‘victory’ of Mao Zedong’s theory of the bloc of four classes in 1949. He took power in the name of this bloc in 1949 which politically excluded the working class but he did not institute a deformed workers’ state (with the working class still politically excluded) until 1952-3 when the advent of the Korean war meant the their erstwhile allies in the national bourgeoisie became too unreliable for government.

This 1949-53 bloc of four classes was made up of the working class, the peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie (http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/b/l.htm).

Those expropriated between 1949 and 1952-3 were only those who had directly fought for the US-backed Kuomintang in the civil war, the landlord class and the ‘comprador’ bourgeoisie, agents for foreign Imperialist interests who were defined as the only enemies of the working class; the ‘national bourgeoisie’ were allowed to remain in control of their capitalist enterprises for about three more years. They might never have been expropriated (the USSR did not expropriate them in Austria post-WWII or in Afghanistan after the 1979 invasion, despite holding state power). This is the Popular Frontist two stage policy still pursued today by the SACP in South Africa via the ANC and by Maoist and other Stalinist forces from Peru to India, Nepal and the Philippines, to give a few examples. Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution provided the basis for the only consistent revolutionary programme for these countries.[7]

Slaughter correcting Trotsky’s ‘errors’

Now we come on to Slaughter correcting Trotsky’s ‘errors’: “was Trotsky right when he wrote of the conditions being ‘fully ripe for the socialist revolution’? Now that we know the fate of the Russian Revolution and can make a confident prognosis concerning the likelihood of any genuine democracy in China, I think we must concede that he was not.”

So there is no ‘democracy’ (irrelevant whether bourgeois or soviet apparently) in Russia and China so Trotsky was wrong. He must really hope we will not take the trouble to check this quote either, no actual falsification this time but a classic of the ripping of the quote out of its context. Here is that context:

“‘But do you really believe, the Stalins, Rykovs and all the other Molotovs objected dozens of times between 1905 and 1917, ‘that Russia is ripe for the socialist revolution?’ To that I always answered: No, I do not. But world economy as a whole, and European economy in the first place, is fully ripe for the socialist revolution. Whether the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia leads to socialism or not, and at what tempo and through what stages, will depend upon the fate of European and world capitalism.”

A totally different story emerges; the world revolution has escaped Slaughter’s notice entirely. And then he too inverts cause and effect;

“We learned to understand its failure to spread and its degeneration in Russia as the result of betrayals of leadership, consequent of the utopian doctrine of ‘socialism in a single country’ and the bureaucratisation of the Bolshevik party and the Soviet state apparatus.”

Well no, we did not learn that at all, those of us who were listening. We learned that the German Social Democrats drowned the German revolution in blood and this caused the isolation of the Russian revolution and its consequent degeneration; the doctrine of socialism in a single country and all the rest were a product of these material circumstances. They would never have arisen had the German revolution continued the forward march of the world revolution. The reciprocal reaction of cause and effect does not mean that we can substitute one for the other at random like this. After 1917 the subjective factor in the unfolding of the world revolution was outside of Russia.

The final insult to the name of Trotskyism

And the final insult to the name of Trotskyism: Slaughter explains that bourgeois-democratic revolutions after 1917 were all led by Stalinists (he still cannot handle Cuba) and it was only via this path – and not via the bourgeoisie – that nationalist capitalist states could be achieved; and that is the historic role the various Stalinist regimes, ‘workers states’ played. They prepared, and effected the transition of the nation to capitalism” (p284).

Well there we have it! This implies the Bolsheviks were wrong against the Mensheviks and Trotsky was wrong against Stalin and present-day Trotskyists are wrong against Stalinists everywhere. Stalinism has played a historically progressive role and their opponents on the left deserved what they got for attempting to obstruct this progressivism, as they always claimed – remember Ho Chi Min’s remark on the great Vietnamese Trotskyist leader Ta Thu Thau after he has had him assassinated in 1946 as told by Daniel Guerin: “He was a great patriot and we mourn him … but all those who do not follow the line we have laid down will be broken.” Slaughter has listened to and imbibed whole the philosophy of the Stalinist Mészáros who listened to and learned his ‘Marxism’ from that other more famous Stalinist Georg Lukács, a lifelong loyal Stalinist with only minor oppositional stances, and become a Stalinist himself.

Kruschev1Khrushchev Secret Speech in 1956

We might think how it is possible for the man who championed Stalinism until 1956, then rejected it because of Khrushchev’s secret speech to the 20th Congress and the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution by Soviet tanks in the same year, then embraced what he understood as Trotskyism until 1986, then capitulated to Imperialism by espousing the notion that ‘Stalinism is the most counter-revolutionary force on the planet’ to now become a Stalinist himself once again? Stalinism was a backward nationalist capitulation to Imperialism by the bureaucracy in the first workers’ state and Trotskyism was its opposite, the fight for the world revolution as the only way forward for the world working class leading the whole of humanity out of the impasse forced on it by a decaying world Imperialist system.

The manner and form of how individuals and groups like the PR group and the MfS abandon that historic task are mere details and historic accident; we have established this fact by examining these details. In the Swamp Max Shachtman, Raya Dunayevskya, CLR James and Hal Draper mediated through the works of Georg Lukács, István Mészáros, Cyril Smith and Cliff Slaughter now trump Lenin and Trotsky as political models as well as on the intimately connected question of internal democracy and the need for a workers’ state. We must continue the struggle without and against them; that fight will strengthen new revolutionists now emerging to replace them; they will supersede them and annul their failures.


[1] Its original central leadership are right wing in long-term general overall theoretical and political orientation. But it is in fact to the left of the AWL on many issues of the rank-and-file class struggle, as a group whose orientation is towards ‘left communism’ of the type denounced by Lenin in his 1920 pamphlet Left Wing Communism; an Infantile Disorder would be – as Bukharin and others appeared as an ultra-leftist opponent of Lenin from the revolution to the early twenties only to reveal the true content of this ultra-leftism in 1924, he was the Bolshevik leader who was most open to capitalist restoration before Stalin ditched him in 1928. So taking into account the increasing number of other amorphous disorientated tendencies drawn into its milieu, it can only be accurately designated as ‘The Swamp’, but with patches of dry ground here and there.

[2] 28 July 1794, 9 Thermidor, (the hot month in the ‘start again’ culture of the Revolution which renamed the months of the year and began dates with 1792 as year zero) when reaction triumphed in the French Revolution with the execution of Robespierre, St Just and 20 other leaders in Paris.

[3] Lenin writes in the State and Revolution: “The distinction between Marxists and the anarchists is this: (1) The former, while aiming at the complete abolition of the state, recognize that this aim can only be achieved after classes have been …abolished by the socialist revolution, as the result of the establishment of socialism, which leads to the withering away of the state. The latter want to abolish the state completely overnight, not understanding the conditions under which the state can be abolished. (2) The former recognize that after the proletariat has won political power it must completely destroy the old state machine and replace it by a new one consisting of an organization of the armed workers, after the type of the Commune. The latter, while insisting on the destruction of the state machine, have a very vague idea of what the proletariat will put in its place and how it will use its revolutionary power. The anarchists even deny that the revolutionary proletariat should use the state power; they reject its revolutionary dictatorship. (3) The former demand that the proletariat be trained for revolution by utilizing the present state. The anarchists reject this.”

[4] In fairness a temporary alliance with the ‘devil or his grandmother’ (Trotsky), i.e. with Yeltsin against Yanayev is clearly permissible in defence of life and limb and the WIL were closer to that principle but even they went some way towards accepting capitalist restoration in order to attain or preserve a non-class and unspecified ‘democracy’. Sometimes you must address your propagandas towards the working class in abstract, calling on them to rise in their own self-defence when all have abandoned the struggle for their interests, even from a bureaucratic corrupted, self-interested standpoint.

[5] Colin Roach died from a gunshot wound whilst in police custody in 1983. The fight for justice for Colin Roach and against racist police murders gained widespread support among the Black community and on the left in the years that followed.

[6] It is difficult to believe this is a typing error. Such quotes are almost invariable cut and pasted from Trotsky’s works online nowadays and the lack of a page number in the footnoted reference indicates that this was the case here. Clearly, having used the phrase in introducing the quote, he then altered the quote to suit his own political distortion.

[7] This is the point which Gerry Downing argued in Imperialism is the Main Enemy, Weekly Worker 726 Thursday June 19 2008, http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1001617 against Comrade Torab Saleth, former International Executive Committee of the USFI (United Secretariat of the Fourth International) who had attacked permanent revolution as being irrelevant today in a previous Weekly Worker article.

One thought on “A political obituary to Cliff Slaughter as a Trotskyist

  1. […] But the Russian Revolution was a big mistake apparently, Lenin should not have changed his mind and lashed up with that scoundrel Trotsky. Only a bourgeois revolution was ever possible in Russia back then and subsequent events have proved this correct. QED – Comrade Jack Conrad. Strangely my old WRP comrade Cliff Slaughter has now come to the same conclusion under the tutelage of István Mészáros. He even deliberately misquotes Trotsky to prove this. Strange bedfellows indeed! See A political obituary to Cliff Slaughter as a Trotskyist, https://socialistfight.com/2017/07/25/a-political-obituary-to-cliff-slaughter-as-a-trotskyist/ […]


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