Reflections on a post Communist University Meeting


22/09/2017 by socialistfight

By Gerry Downing

Image result for "Socialist Fight" Harry PollittThe political origins of the Weekly Worker/CPGB Communist University

Dear Comrades,

Having discussed with you some of the lessons of the Communist University 2017 and the history of the Russian revolution and discovered in some detail what the differences between us are here are my thoughts.

Why did the Russian Revolution degenerate?

Here clear difference arose; one comrade insisted that Stalin had made mistakes but strongly rejected the Marxist materialist explanation of the main reason; that it had failed to spread internationally, particularly to Germany in the years 1918-23. The defeat of that revolutionary upsurge in October 1923 was the culmination of several defeats, most importantly in Austria, Hungary, and Italy. The ominous defeat of the Italian working class with the coming to power of Mussolini in 1922 set the scene for that defeat in Germany in October of the following year.

This had a severe effect on the moral of the Russian working class; a great wave of disappointment swept over them at the defeat and the material difficulties facing them now seemed insurmountable. They had lost the revolutionary flower of the generation that made the revolution and those who so enthusiastically responded it in its immediate aftermath in the Civil War. For instance, the revolutionary sailors of Kronstadt fleet almost all perished in the front lines and those who rose against the Bolshevik government there in 1921 were different in social origin and political understanding to that lost generation. Likewise, the Soviets withered because the generation that made the revolution were either dead by 1924 or beginning to be absorbed into the bureaucracy and so were defending relative privileges after the great sacrifices of the Civil War and the subsequent famine of 1921–22, which killed some 5 million, mainly but not only in the Volga and Ural River regions.

Of course, it was necessary to staff the offices of the state but the revolution is finished once the aim is ease of administration and marginal privileges and that layer is now reflected in the political priorities of the leaders of the state. The bureaucracy ‘felt out’ Stalin and Stalin ‘felt out’ the bureaucracy in the years of the mid to late 1920s and each were satisfied with what they found. The revolution was forced to rely on many of the old functionaries, overseen by Commissars, but now the burning necessity to drive the revolution forward became blunted by a self-serving ideology which said, “we have suffered enough, that Trotsky is a trouble-maker and a mad-man by seeking more wars internationally, let us settle for socialism in Russia alone and seek to avoid any foreign intervention which will stop us doing that”. In fact, Trotsky sought revolutions internationally and opposed Lenin in the Politburo in the 1920 invasion of Poland, which he correctly estimated would end in failure because Polish workers would not distinguish between the old Czarist occupation and the now threatening Red Army occupation.

Image result for Trotsky Lessons of October images

So, before we get onto the political struggles that reflected these material conditions of isolation, famine, and poverty we must insist that it was this material being that determined the consciousness that was fought out in the internal party struggles from 1923, which began with the publication of Trotsky’s Lessons of October in 1924 and ended with Trotsky’s exile to Prinkipo in 1929.

Related image

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact

Another disagreement was on the Stalin/Hitler pact of 1939. Already by 1924, Zinoviev was the dominant figure of the anti-Trotsky Triumvirate with Kamenev and Stalin, he began ‘Bolshevising’ the foreign affiliates of the Comintern at the Fifth World Congress of that year. ‘Bolshevisation’ involved replacing all critically thinking communist leaders with functionaries who were generally recent party members and who would obey without question all instructions from the Kremlin, even if it directly contradicted the instructions of the previous week. Those favoured were men or women of low theoretical understanding, preferably of working-class origins who were promoted far beyond their abilities. Harry Pollitt in Britain, Earl Browder in the USA and Ernst Thälmann in Germany were such people, although whilst poor Harry never got his head around the Stalin/Hitler (Molotov–Ribbentrop) Pact of August 1939 Thälmann had no such problems because his political understanding was too low; he was incapable of demurring because he just did not grasp the problems.

Palme Dutt sailed on to replace Harry Pollitt as General Secretary from the Hitler/Stalin pact of August 1939 to the invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941. Poor Harry could not understand how the Popular Front line of class collaboration to defeat fascism, the greatest enemy of all humanity, now gave way to support for Nazi Germany, via a pact and demands that Britain and France should make peace; effectively surrender to Hitler. But Palme Dutt never had a problem with whatever line Stalin wanted to push, even though it was the diametrical opposite of the previous line. The Wikipedia entry on this incident is disingenuous:

Image result for CPGB General Secretary Harry Pollitt imagesCPGB General Secretary Harry Pollitt gets a Soviet stamp in his honour, despite his doubts about the Stalin/Hitler pact


“In 1939, when the CPGB General Secretary Harry Pollitt supported the United Kingdom’s entry into World War II, it was Palme Dutt who promoted Stalin’s line, forcing Pollitt’s temporary resignation. As a result, he became the party’s General Secretary until Pollitt was reappointed in 1941, after the German invasion of the USSR and consequent reversal of the Communist Party attitude towards World War II.”

That entry is so misleading as to amount a complete Stalinist lie. Of course, Stalin opposed Britain going to war with his ally Adolph Hitler but could you really publicly defend that line? No problem said Palme Dutt and his allies in the CPGB who overthrew poor Harry for his ‘revisionism’.[1]

We have dealt with the history of the Russian revolution in a series of classes which we have posted on the website. [2]


Lastly let me deal with one question that began the discussion with one of the comrades, Vietnam. When I first joined the WRP in 1976 I was working in the London buildings for a subbie with a man from Sligo, Joe, who was a Maoist. He was exultant; Ho Chi Minh had defeated US imperialism and led a successful revolution there; what revolutions have the Trotskyists ever led? I enquired into the matter and the branch secretary directed me to two articles in the Fourth International Magazine by Stephen Johns, Autumn 1975 and Winter 1975-76. I can scan them in and post them if anyone is interested.

From these articles, I gleaned that Joe was essentially correct and with this troubled understanding I entered the 1985 split in the WRP and discovered that Johns was completely wrong and that the Vietnamese Trotskyists were entirely correct politically. This misunderstanding was because the SLL/WRP had never broken politically with ‘Pabloism’ (capitulation to Stalinism and later to all petty-bourgeois nationalisms) merely organisationally. The WSL explained the matter excellently well in their newspaper Socialist Press. Having read that I could not but conclude that many in the WRP knew that the WSL were correct and that Johns was wrong but opportunistally remained silent, whilst some other agreed with him of course. In about 1979-80 Johns and Royston Bull split from the WRP, partly correctly objecting to the obscene political capitulation to Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran but also containing that semi-Stalinist, semi-Trotskyist politics that characterised the group they founded, the Workers Party (no relation to the Irish version) and later the Economic and Philosophical Science Review, who definitively rejected Trotskyism.

Image result for Vietnamese Trotskyist leader ta Thu Thau imagesThe Trotskyist leader in Vietnam assassinated by Ho Chi Minh in 1945 to assist the French and British re-occupation. 


Here are the extracts from the WSL article which explains why and how this political evolution occurred:

“In the recent degeneration of the WRP leadership the wheel begins to come full circle, and they set their journalists to apologetics for Stalinist politics, dragging the record of the Vietnamese Trotskyist movement in the mud. For similar reasons, they falsify their own role in the 1953 split.

First we take up some of the main falsifications in Johns’ articles. On his own admission he knows next to nothing of the real record of Vietnamese Trotskyism, in 1945 or before. How come? Because, as he disarmingly explains, the ‘internationalism’ of the WRP stops north of Dover:

“There is no thorough investigation in English into the role of the Trotskyist movement in Vietnam, still less a Marxist analysis. It appears that no Vietnamese Trotskyist has ever written an account of the Saigon events. [By ‘Saigon events’ Johns means the revolutionary power in Saigon in August-September 1945, the struggle of the Trotskyists to prevent the Stalinists allowing French troops to reoccupy, and their murder at the hands of the Vietminh]. Most of the available material is in French, and an investigation of this would be required before any definitive view could be reached”.

There could be no clearer statement of the cynicism and national arrogance with which Johns wields his pen. If only these foreigners would learn to speak English! Then perhaps the WRP would condescend to read about the policies they fought for – and he has the impudence to accuse us of being petit-bourgeois English patriots!

In any case, Johns is wholly wrong. There is a full account of ‘the Saigon events’ in the official journal of the Fourth International, by a surviving comrade of the International Communist League who played a leading part in them. (See Some stages in the revolution in the South of Vietnam in Quatrieme Internationale 1947).

There is also a book published by the International in 1948 – jointly written by a Vietnamese and a French comrade – describing more widely the problems of the Vietnamese revolution: National movements and class struggle in Vietnam by Anh Van and Jacqueline Roussel. (Both of them are – regrettably for Mr Johns – in French).


It is a scandal that the WRP – largest section of the so-called ‘International Committee’ – writes about a struggle which they say is the most important since the October revolution, and in which the Trotskyist cadres played a central part, without bothering to read these accounts. Ignorance, of course, does not inhibit Johns from condemning the Vietnamese Trotskyists for taking “far too superficial a view” of the peasants and for “an abstract and sectarian approach” to the national question.

The ‘Saigon events’ of August-September 1945 were revolutionary developments, and they moved rapidly. The critical time for the south of Vietnam (Cochinchina) was the entry of British, then French, troops in the first half of September to gain a hold in and around Saigon. These troops were welcomed by Tran Van Giau, the Stalinist head of the ‘Committee of the South’ which claimed government power in the vacuum after the Japanese surrender in August.

The cadres of the International Communist League were arrested by Giau on or just after September 12th precisely for issuing an appeal which denounced “the treasonable policy of the Stalinist government, and its capitulation before the threat of the general staff of the English troops”.

The ICL’s words were only too true. By September 23rd enough French and British forces were concentrated in Saigon to launch a coup against the Vietminh, and drive them out of the city. From then on there was war throughout the south Vietnamese countryside but the imperialists held Saigon, and French troops began to retake the Mekong delta area and drive northwards. Within a fortnight the Stalinists in the south were victims of their own policy.

Johns’ articles, however, slide over these critical days giving virtually no dates (the purpose of the chronology in Socialist Press of June 12th was to make them clear). His aim is to confuse the situation in September 1945 with that in March 1946, when Ho Chi Minh was forced by massive French forces in the south and the north to sign an ‘independence’ agreement.

Johns then justifies this retreat on grounds of the “objective circumstances the Vietminh and the ICP (Indochina Communist Party) found themselves in in 1945-6”. In effect, Johns chooses to recognise the revolution by its backside, and then employs this as ‘explanation’ for the defeat.

Exactly the same opportunism is at work in Johns’ slanders on the Vietnamese Trotskyists in 1945. He attacks them on the basis of extracts from Trotsky’s short comments on their policies – in 1930! Using these, Johns charges them with:

“a failure to grasp the peasant question, an underestimation of the progressive role of nationalism, and the dangers of sectarianism towards both the working class and the peasantry”.

He says – falsely – that they were opposed to “peasant soviets – which were in fact embryo liberated areas” and that their policies (“completely idealist” according to Johns) “accounted in part for their inability to withstand the liquidation of their movement”!

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Trotskyists crystallised the tasks of the hour and the temper of masses of Vietnamese in the August revolution. They put right to the fore demands both for the redistribution of the land, and for the arming of workers and peasants to defend national independence. In the huge Saigon demonstration of August 21st thousands took up their slogans. They still got mass support in the demonstrations of August 25th and September 2nd, when the Stalinists had tightened their grip on the governmental apparatus.


In the countryside peasant committees were dealing with the parasites of French rule wholesale: in Saigon-Cholon the Trotskyists led numerous local ‘Peoples Committees’. A ‘Provisional Central Committee’, uniting about a hundred such committees, was set up after the August 21st demonstration and, on August 26th, issued a programme for the revolutionary defence of national independence, for uniting peasants and workers via the Peoples Committees in towns and countryside, and for the struggle for a national assembly of Peoples Committees.

The Provisional Central Committee held delegate meetings daily, centring on the fight for armed defence of independence. On September 4th delegates from the workers’ districts of Banco and Phu-Nhuan brought forward proposals to take over French-owned factories and produce war materials. It was also demanded that the Bank of Indochina be taken over and fortified as a centre of defence.

On September 6th, the Stalinist press and radio launched a concerted and vitriolic witch-hunt against the Trotskyists – on the same day that the British mission demanded the disarming of Vietnamese. On the 7th Tran Van Giau’s “Committee of the South” ordered the disarming of all other organisations. The decree declared:

“all those who call the people to arms and above all to struggle against the Allies will be considered as provocateurs and saboteurs”.

By (or just before) September 12th the Stalinists welcomed General Gracey and the first detachments of British and Indian troops. On the same day (or the 14th, according to some sources) the Stalinists carried out the main police raids and arrests of Trotskyist cadres.

Stalinist Fears

The Stalinists were equally fearful of the Trotskyists’ agitation on the land question. On August 27th Stalinist ‘Interior Commissar’ Nguyen-Van-Tuo declared:

“All those who have instigated the peasants to seize landowners’ property will be severely and pitilessly punished”.

He added:

“We have not yet made the Communist revolution which will solve the agrarian problem. This government is only a democratic government. That is why such a task does not devolve on it. Our government, I repeat, is a bourgeois democratic government, even though the Communists are now in power”.

So Stephen Johns’ accusations of ‘neglecting’ national independence and the peasants should therefore be wholly directed at the Stalinists, not the Trotskyists. So powerful was the (largely spontaneous) peasant movement in the countryside – to which the Trotskyists’ policies gave political voice – that it took months of bloody warfare and torture by French troops after September to put it down.

Thus did imperialism (allowed in the door by Stalinism) attend to the solution of the “agrarian problem”, and simultaneously replace “bourgeois democracy” by imperialist rape. As the Trotskyists well understood, the laws of the permanent revolution apply as strongly in defeat as in victory. [3]



[2] 1,




[3] Behind the Smokescreen, An analysis of the sectarian politics of the Workers Revolutionary Party, A collection of articles first printed in Socialist Press; Written: 1975 / 76. First Published: June 1976.

Source: Published by Folrose Ltd. for the Workers Socialist League. Transcription/HTML Markup: Sean Robertson for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).Copyleft: Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line ( 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons license. Please cite any editors, proofreaders and formatters noted above along with any other publishing information including the URL of this document.


One thought on “Reflections on a post Communist University Meeting

  1. Jim Smith says:

    I am glad that you recognise the Vietnamese Trotskyists as having been the revolutionary force in Vietnam

    Liked by 1 person

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