JMP on Trotskyism

Sorry for cutting these up, they’re both fantastic articles that should be read in full

Earlier, in the context of another post, I briefly indicated that Trotskyism was flawed by an essentialist understanding of class; because of this the prototypical Trotskyist understanding of class consciousness, class position, and class struggle annihilates the possibility of concretely understanding race/racism, gender/sexism, and other sites of oppression as part of social class.  Trotskyism’s crude class reductionism, which at the end of the day obliterates a proper understanding of class as a social category, also connects to its general eurocentric understanding of world history.  There is a reason that Maoism is simply another species of “Stalinism”––this is because no one from places like China, according to the most rabid Trotskyite cult recruiter, are capable of theoretical thought.  The same goes for any revolutionary African historical materialism: I have heard numerous Trotskyists, for example, write-off Frantz Fanon because he was not a proper “revolutionary theorist”––apparently writing theory in the midst of an anticolonial revolution does not qualify as properly revolutionary.  No, to be a proper revolutionary one must cling to theory that emerged from the “civilized” centres of world capitalism where workers struggles, we are told, are far more advanced than the “primitive” and “degenerated” struggles in the peripheries.

Trotskyist theory of world revolution, then, generally tends to be a eurocentric game.  The entire theory of Permanent Revolution, which relies on the erroneous analysis of world capitalism being “combined and uneven development” (one mode of production cast upon the entire globe), ultimately produces an understanding of revolution that is both chauvinist and paralyzing: the task of underdeveloped nations (and there is no clear understanding of the global capitalist relationship that develops underdevelopment), was for the germ of the working classes there to pursue the bourgeois democratic revolution in their own country and keep alive a revolutionary spirit (i.e. holding the revolution in permanence), while keeping alive a revolutionary spirit, thus creating a larger and more advanced working class––ultimately all of the nations that did this would have to hold the revolution in permanence for a long time until everyone in the world was in a similar place, like the “advanced” working class in the already capitalist developed nations, so as to have a socialist revolution altogether.  Maoist theories, along with theories emerging from revolutionary African movements (i.e. Fanon, Cabral, etc.), rejected this position as a half-truth; this is why the theories of New Democratic Revolution and Cultural Revolution, for example, emerged in China.



My point here, however, is only to point out that it is entirely significant that academic marxism now accepts a specific discourse about Stalin and so-called “Stalinism” and that this, more than anything else, is the influence of trotskyism.  I treat this as significant because trotskyism’s core dogma is not about the so-called “permanent revolution” but primarily about anti-stalinism.  Indeed, it fundamentally defines itself as anti-stalinism more than anything else: orthodox trotskyists attack every communism they despise as “stalinist” and they focus obsessively on a “socialism in one country” that they see as the hallmark of “stalinism”.  Moreover, trotskyism is the tradition that is most responsible for inversely theorizing “stalinism” because so-called “stalinists” always claimed they were only “Marxist-Leninist” and that Stalin was just a Leninist revolutionary.  Thus, everyone who is a non-trotskyist marxist-leninist, according to trotskyists, is a “stalinist”––especially if they believe that a socialist revolution can be accomplished in a single country without waiting for the workers of the advanced centres to lead the revolution.  This obsessive anti-stalinism, then, might be the only dogma of trotskyism.  Thus, if it was unsuccessful in making its other theories hegemonic in academia, trotskyism has been successful in this one area: an uncritical anti-Stalin-Trotsky-was-the-victim stance is at the root of the majority of academic marxism.

This discourse about Stalin and “stalinism” is so hegemonic in academia that to even suggest, in proper academic marxist circles, that maybe Trotsky was more responsible for wrecking the international communist movement than Stalin is generally unwise (and the fact that I am writing this here, where it will probably be read by my academic fears, is something that might possibly affect my already non-existent career prospects).  Indeed, to suggest that the discourse of stalinism runs parallel to a cold war discourse about Stalin-as-mass-murderer and that we should be suspicious about these kinds of things is bad for one’s academic health––or at least enough to get yelled at by people who don’t want to believe that their understanding of Stalin era Soviet Union and its supposed crimes is not “progressive” as they somehow and bizarrely want to believe but actually a banal and common belief amongst reactionary historians.  Nor does the fact that the vast majority of the world’s communists (meaning those who don’t live at the privileged centres of capitalism) tell themselves a different and more critically nuanced story of the Soviet Union under Stalin.  Hell, even leftists living in the former Eastern Bloc who remember that era do not, for some reason, believe what we are supposed to believe here about that period: the Russians who can remember the Stalin era proudly bear his picture on victory day marches, the Eastern Orthodox Church has received an overwhelming requests to make Stalin a saint, and even in places like the Ukraine where we are told that Stalin personally and intentionally exacted the worst totalitarian policies (a claim initially made by the cold warrior historian Robert Service who has now, in fact, distanced himself from that theory), there is a communist party that tells a more critical story about the famine.



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