On ‘Revolutionary Regroupment’
IBT Exchange With ICL
On 3 November 2007, the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) held a public meeting in Toronto to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution. Guest speaker Bryan Palmer, James P. Cannon’s biographer, addressed a crowd of 60 on the topic of “The Russian Revolution and the North American Left.” Among those in attendance were supporters of the New Democratic Party, Socialist Action, Socialist Equality Party, Socialist Project, and the Trotskyist League (TL—aka “Spartacists”), as well as a representative of Upping the Anti, a semi-anarchist publication.
During the discussion period, several Spartacist speakers disputed the idea that any significant revolutionary re-groupment is possible today. Tynan M., declared, “in the 1960s through to the 1990s, we Spartacists pursued regroupments with organizations around the world claiming to be Trotskyist…but what we discovered was that we were the only organization in the world that stood on the program and principles of Trotskyism.” John Masters, the TL’s senior figure, added:
“The possibility of regrouping the genuine revolutionary forces in the period roughly 1919 to 1921 was decisively shaped by a huge epochal victory for the proletariat—the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. There have been other epochal or major events which, while not of the same scale, have posed the possibility of major regroupment of genuine revolutionary forces. For example, May ‘68 in France shook the left. In a different way, the Khrushchev revelations and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 shook big parts of the left. There were possibilities, things opened there. But let’s face it: the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991 is what shaped the current period and it is a disastrous defeat that has produced demoralization, disillusionment, heavily into the working class. And I’m sorry, ‘fragmented’ isn’t the point: the vast majority of the left, including self-professed Marxists, supported counterrevolution. There is no basis for any substantive revolutionary regroupment there. That’s not to say there isn’t a basis for winning individuals or even small groupings here or there. But what we are faced with in this period I think is a very different task—it is fundamentally upholding the principles of revolutionary Marxism, including learning the lessons of history and not pretending to blur over things….”
While comrade Masters is quite right that epochal victories are usually required before massive political realignments occur within the workers’ movement, some very important regroupments have taken place in periods of generally rightward motion. The handful of socialists of the “Zimmerwald Left,” who met in September 1915 in Switzerland to raise the banner of proletarian internationalism in the midst of a barbaric world war, took a very important step on the road to a new, revolutionary socialist international. In the aftermath of the Nazi victory in 1933—one of the most severe defeats ever suffered by the international working class—Leon Trotsky actively sought to regroup the best militants from various small splits from social democracy and the Stalinized Communist International. During the McCarthyite 1950s in the United States, the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party made a small, but significant, regroupment when a few young revolutionaries (including James Robertson, Shane Mage and Tim Wohlforth) broke with Max Shachtman’s rightward-moving Independent Socialist League.
There is abundant evidence that millions of people around the world are eager to fight capitalist oppression. Some of them join various ostensibly socialist organizations. The job of revolutionaries is to win the best militants to the program of genuine Marxism, i.e., Trotskyism.
Comrade Samuel Trachtenberg, speaking for the IBT, responded to Masters as follows:
“I think that the political perspective put forward by the comrades of the Trotskyist League today is one that you will find they have been putting forward in their newspapers for the last several years. And I would argue that it is an extremely demoralizing and pessimistic perspective. It boils down to arguing that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the so-called post-Soviet era that they are talking about, what we have seen is not just a huge defeat for the working class, which it certainly was, but a defeat of the working class so monumental that no class struggle, no real progress of any sort—whether a call for a general strike in France last year, whether we see uprisings by workers in Bolivia or Mexico, or fighting to build a revolutionary party through revolutionary regroupment— is possible. Nothing is possible in the so-called post-Soviet era, according to them, but [to] uphold the Trotskyist tradition in their own bunker. As they put it, they themselves have developed a ‘bunker mentality’ in reaction to the so-called post-Soviet era.
“So what do you do? Well, it seems that the argument that is being made today [is] that revolutionary regroupment was possible because of the victory of the Russian Revolution. Well, we don’t have the Russian Revolution around at this moment, so what do you do? Well, you wait for another Russian Revolution to occur. But guess what? We cannot have another revolution in the United States, Canada or anywhere else without a revolutionary party. And you cannot have a revolutionary party hiding out in their bunker abstractly upholding the tradition in isolation from the class struggle and from the rest of the left.
“In terms of how do you build a revolutionary party and what the Bolsheviks did for 20 years before the revolution—well, the Marxist movement at that point did something similar, I would argue, to what we are doing at the moment. [Georgy] Plekhanov, in a period when Marxists were extremely small and tiny and did not have the capacity to go out and organize the masses and mass struggles, put out publications, polemics and critiques of the populists, Narodniks, anarchists and other left socialist trends within Russia at that moment. (Trotsky himself was recruited from the populists.) And I would argue that is something we can do today. Because within groups like the International Socialists, within groups like the Communist Party of Canada, even within groups like the Trotskyist League, even there, you will find people, comrades, who are subjectively revolutionary—who really are interested in a revolution—but are stuck in a bad organization with bad politics and bad program.”