[Collapse of the IBT] We are defending the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky not of Seymour (2018/0811)

by 볼셰비키 posted Nov 08, 2018


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Contributed in 11th Aug 2018 for the internal debate

We are defending the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky 

not of Seymour

The main ground of the 21 June, 2018 letter replying to EA, and endorsed by the comrades is that our argument is not in accord with the tradition which was established in iSt in 1970s and  “Seymour’s Marxism.”

The tradition you comrades strongly uphold against us was not only used at that time, but also raised since the 2013 Egyptian and 2016 Turkish coups. It was a main basis against the position that “we should have been in a military bloc against the coups” by some comrades, to argue that neutralist position should have been taken in those coups.

And the tradition was a main argument in the last conference as well, but fortunately the risky neutralist position based on the ‘tradition’ was rejected by the conference.

Besides the stronghold of the tradition, the ICL, also are reexamining the tradition established in 1970, labeling it “chauvinist.”

The tradition has been challenged by the various historical events, including recent developments with Iran. (Khomeini and the Islamic republic is a political barrier which should be overthrown by the working class but not by imperialism. I do not think the knowledge of it,  as Leninist-Trotskyist, can be such a great pride, like the knowledge that we should bloc with Kerensky and Chiang Kai-shek.)

Then, why shouldn’t we be critical of the iSt-Seymour tradition? Why should it be a golden rule?

We are proud of and respect the positive contributions of the iSt, especially the degenerated/deformed workers’ state theory and rather principled position against imperialism against opportunists. We fully agree with “Imperialist War & Socialist Pretenders: Following the Line of Least Resistance” (2003), while we are critical of opportunist holes on imperialism.

We have studied Lenin and Trotsky’s tradition on national question seriously and could not find any contradictions with them. Trotsky’s “On Sino-Japanese War” is vividly clear. We suggest you read it carefully, and other articles of Lenin some of which we quote at the end of this letter.

*           *           *

Tom’s “On Dual Defeatism”

After the last conference, Tom sent me a document, “On Dual Defeatism”. I guess comrade Roxy meant it in her 26 June comment. It was an explanation that Lenin did not ‘always’ take a side with in a national conflict. It was on my mistaken argument from over generalization at the last conference that “apart from inter-imperialist conflicts, Lenin and Trotsky ever took a dual-defeatist position.” My comment at the conference went too far but I roughly tried to convey the danger of a ‘neutral’ position against imperialism, in line with Trotsky’s view:

"The struggle against war and its social source, capitalism, presupposes direct, active, unequivocal support to the oppressed colonial peoples in their struggles and wars against imperialism. A ‘neutral’ position is tantamount to support of imperialism."

—Leon Trotsky, "Resolution on the Antiwar Congress of the London Bureau," July 1936/ Imperialist War & Socialist Pretenders, 2003

The document sent to me was not only to correct my comment, but also to defend his ‘neutral’ position in Egypt and Turkey and various others with quotations from Lenin, arguing there have been various “middle courses”.

We discussed it with Hape and Roxy. At the time, I very cautiously said “I guess, Tom perhaps misread Lenin’s ‘A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism’.” At almost same time I came across the very quotation from a Korean ORO leftist too. It was not only accidental. So, we studied and discussed it in subsequent days.

Of course, we agree that “we are not obliged to automatically support every resistance against imperialism.” And we would not support a ‘national uprising’ which is being used as a tool of imperialist division and redivision.

However, we think that with his interpretation of the quotation, Tom suggests “conditional” support in the conflict between the force for national liberation and imperialism.

In “On Dual Defeatism”, Tom said quoting Lenin:

In the same article Lenin went as far as to argue that while Marxists support struggles for liberation, this does not translate into automatic support for any and all struggles in the colonies:

“Imperialism is as much our ‘mortal’ enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism; we will not support an uprising of the reactionary classes against imperialism and capitalism.

“Consequently, once the author admits the need to support an uprising of an oppressed nation (‘actively resisting’ suppression means supporting the uprising), he also admits that a national uprising is progressive, that the establishment of a separate and new state, of new frontiers, etc., resulting from a successful uprising, is progressive.” <p63>

—Ibid., bolded emphasis added

Lenin was perhaps bending the stick a bit with this formulation, but it is clear that he considered it necessary for revolutionaries to make a careful estimate of what is at stake in every particular situation, and only take sides when the workers and oppressed have a stake in the outcome.

Tom reads that there is “a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism” “in colonies” and then he uses this as a premise for the argument that we do not give support to a movement when it is led by a “reactionary class”, even for national liberation against imperialism. He then implicitly suggests our support should be ‘conditional’. If a leading group is not progressive but reactionary, we should not give support, or ‘at least’ we should choose whether or not to give support to the colonial uprising against imperialism.

This position might be and has been an excuse to deny the duty to take the side of the colonial forces against imperialism, opening the back door to social chauvinism.

When Lenin talks of “reactionary classes” in the passage “We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism; we will not support an uprising of the reactionary classes against imperialism and capitalism,” he does not mean we will not support the struggle of reactionary classes for national liberation in the colonies. That is a misreading.

First of all, if we give the passage that reading it contradicts the whole article and takes the same position as Kievsky who denied ‘the significance of the struggle of national self-determination against imperialism,’ which Lenin ferociously criticized through the whole article.

Secondly, it contradicts the very next paragraph in which Lenin clearly confirms that “national uprising is progressive… resulting from a successful uprising, is progressive.”

Thirdly, there is this undeniable proposition. “Capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism.” Almost all forces leading the resistance against imperialism have not been able to be progressive but reactionary. Therefore, we should not support almost all of struggle in colonies against imperialism. Perhaps we should judge the ‘progressiveness’ of the national uprising as like a charity giver.

Tom put an excuse after that, “Lenin was perhaps bending the stick a bit with this formulation.” But we do not think so. Lenin is not a Marxist ‘magician’ but one of the Marxist scientists, even though one of the most brilliant. We should not fetishize him. I guess Lenin would have answered to Tom like this: “According to the Polish Marxists, Marx was simply a muddlehead who “in one breath” said contradictory things! (The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up)”

*           *           *

Then, what does Lenin exactly mean?

We have to guess because he did not explain further in this article. But we guess that Lenin did not mean “a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism” is “in colonies”, and that it is not for national liberation. That is consistent with the preceding paragraph, the very next paragraph, the whole article and Lenin’s other articles on the issue.

Lenin was trying to rebut Kievsky’s argument that “...we shall thereby be combating imperialism, our mortal enemy.” Lenin said “it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support.” Lenin tried to criticize Kievsky’s argument that “every struggle against imperialism” is imperative.

There have been struggles of reactionary classes against imperialism and capitalism denying their progressiveness against feudalism and pre-monopoly capitalism (imperialism).

In the “Communist Manifesto” and “Imperialism: Highest Stage of Capitalism” there are examples of that kind of reactionary struggle.

“Communist Manifesto”

―The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history.

―1. Reactionary Socialism/ A. Feudal Socialism: Owing to their historical position, it became the vocation of the aristocracies of France and England to write pamphlets against modern bourgeois society.…For the rest, so little do they conceal the reactionary character of their criticism that their chief accusation against the bourgeois amounts to this, that under the bourgeois régime a class is being developed which is destined to cut up root and branch the old order of society.

―B. Petty-Bourgeois Socialism: In its positive aims, however, this form of Socialism aspires either to restoring the old means of production and of exchange, and with them the old property relations, and the old society, or to cramping the modern means of production and of exchange within the framework of the old property relations that have been, and were bound to be, exploded by those means. In either case, it is both reactionary and Utopian.

―C. German or “True” Socialism: While this “True” Socialism thus served the government as a weapon for fighting the German bourgeoisie, it, at the same time, directly represented a reactionary interest, the interest of German Philistines. In Germany, the petty-bourgeois class, a relic of the sixteenth century, and since then constantly cropping up again under the various forms, is the real social basis of the existing state of things.

―3. Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism: By degrees, they sink into the category of the reactionary [or] conservative Socialists depicted above, differing from these only by more systematic pedantry, and by their fanatical and superstitious belief in the miraculous effects of their social science.



―We shall see later how “on these grounds” reactionary, petty-bourgeois critics of capitalist imperialism dream of going back to “free”, “peaceful”, and “honest” competition.




Appendix: quotations from Lenin on national question related with our argument

“Socialism and War”/1915

―From the liberator of nations that capitalism was in the struggle against feudalism, imperialist capitalism has become the greatest oppressor of nations. Formerly progressive, capitalism has become reactionary

―In particular, the policy of both Austria and Russia peace-time as well as in war, is a policy of enslaving and not of liberating nations. In China, Persia. India and other dependent countries, on the contrary, we have seen during the past decades a policy of rousing tens and hundreds of millions of people to national life, of liberating them from the oppression of the reactionary “great” powers. A war on such a historical ground can even today be a bourgeois-progressive, national-liberation war.


“A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism” 1916

―National self-determination is but one of the democratic demands and does not, in principle, differ from other democratic demands. “World domination” is, to put it briefly, the substance of imperialist policy, of which imperialist war is the continuation. Rejection of “defence of the father land” in a democratic war, i.e., rejecting participation in such a war, is an absurdity that has nothing in common with Marxism.

―Where, is the national liberation movement a false phrase and where is it a living and progressive reality? Kievsky reveals no understanding on any of these points.

―Why does he[Kievsky] not do so directly? Why does he not openly and precisely formulate his proposition: “self-determination, while achievable in the sense that it is economically possible under capitalism, contradicts development and is therefore either reactionary or merely an exception”?

―The social revolution can come only in the form of an epoch in which are combined civil war by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries and a whole series of democratic and revolutionary movements, including the national liberation movement, in the undeveloped, backward and oppressed nations.

―All national oppression calls forth the resistance of the broad masses of the people; and the resistance of a nationally oppressed population always tends to national revolt. Not infrequently (notably in Austria and Russia) we find the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations talking of national revolt, while in practice it enters into reactionary compacts with the bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation behind the backs of, and against, its own people. In such cases the criticism of revolutionary Marxists should be directed not against the national movement, but against its degradation, vulgarisation, against the tendency to reduce it to a petty squabble. Incidentally, very many Austrian and Russian Social-Democrats overlook this and in their legitimate hatred of the petty, vulgar and sordid national squabbles—disputes and scuffles over the question, for instance, of which language shall have precedence in two-language street signs—refuse to support the national struggle. We shall not “support” a republican farce in, say, the principality of Monaco, or the “republican” adventurism of “generals” in the small states of South America or some Pacific island. But that does not mean it would be permissible to abandon the republican slogan for serious democratic and socialist movements. We should, and do, ridicule the sordid national squabbles and haggling in Russia and Austria. But that does not mean that it would be permissible to deny support to a national uprising or a serious popular struggle against national oppression.

―Consequently, once the author admits the need to support an uprising of an oppressed nation (“actively resisting” suppression means supporting the uprising), he also admits that a national uprising is progressive, that the establishment of a separate and new state, of new frontiers, etc., resulting from a successful uprising, is progressive.

―Liberation of the colonies, we stated in our theses, means self-determination of nations. Europeans often forget that colonial peoples too are nations, but to tolerate this “forgetfulness” is to tolerate chauvinism.

―But even with regard to colonial countries where there are no workers, only slave-owners and slaves, etc., the demand for “self-determination”, far from being absurd, is obligatory hit every Marxist.


“The Discussion On Self-Determination Summed Up” 1916

―If Belgium, let us say, is annexed by Germany in 1917, and in 1918 revolts to secure her liberation, the Polish comrades will be against her revolt on the grounds that the Belgian bourgeoisie possess “the right to oppress foreign peoples”!

There is nothing Marxist or even revolutionary in this argument. If we do not want to betray socialism we must support every revolt against our chief enemy, the bourgeoisie of the big states, provided it is not the revolt of a reactionary class. By refusing to support the revolt of annexed regions we become, objectively, annexationists. It is precisely in the “era of imperialism”, which is the era of nascent social revolution, that the proletariat will today give especially vigorous support to any revolt of the annexed regions so that tomorrow, or simultaneously, it may attack the bourgeoisie of the “great” power that is weakened by the revolt.

―What is their objection? References to Marx’s position from 1848 to 1871, they say, are “not of the slightest value”. The argument advanced in support of this unusually irate and peremptory assertion is that “at one and the same time” Marx opposed the strivings far independence of the “Czechs, South Slavs. etc.”

The argument is so very irate because it is so very unsound. According to the Polish Marxists, Marx was simply a muddlehead who “in one breath” said contradictory things! This is altogether untrue, and it is certainly not Marxism.

―In the internationalist education of the workers of the oppressor countries, emphasis must necessarily he laid on their advocating freedom for the oppressed countries to secede and their fighting for it. Without this there can be no internationalism. It is our right and duty to treat every Social-Democrat of an oppressor nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as a scoundrel and an imperialist. This is an absolute demand, even where the chance of secession being possible and “practicable” before the introduction of socialism is only one in a thousand.

―It is to be hoped that, in accordance with the adage, “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good”, many comrades, who were not aware of the morass they were sinking into by repudiating “self-determination” and by treating the national movements of small nations with disdain, will have their eyes opened by the “accidental” coincidence of opinion held by a Social-Democrat and a representative of the imperialist bourgeoisie!!

―To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution.

―The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of tile petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses slid errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will he able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for difficult reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately “purge” itself of petty-bourgeois slag.

―The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene.

―A serious war would not be treated seriously if advantage were not taken of the enemy’s slightest weakness and if every opportunity that presented itself were not seized upon, the more, so since it is impossible to know beforehand at what moment, whore, and with what force some powder magazine will “explode”. We would be very poor revolutionaries if, in the proletariat’s great war of Liberation for socialism, we did not know how to utilise every popular movement against every single disaster imperialism brings in order to intensify and extend the crisis.