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Below is a letter received by the ICL on 5 October 2023 and our reply.

On the Anti Imperialist United Front, and Other Questions
From a Scratch to—the Need for a Bandaid?

Dear comrades,

First I’d like to say that the turn away from the abstentionism of the last period is something I very much welcome. I have been unhappy about that ever since the late ’90s, when the party essentially retreated from the campaign for Mumia Abu-Jamal while it was still a powerful campaign, a campaign that had become my own main activity as a trade unionist. Leaving it in the hands of the reformists without a fight, with the Spartacist role mainly reduced to comrade Wolkenstein’s role as one of Mumia’s lawyers. The result was the reformists promptly running it into the ground. Comrade Wolkenstein’s attempt as SL chairman to jump back in after the campaign was dead was a case of closing the barn door after the horse was stolen, and the opportunist errors involved were opportunism as sectarianism standing in fear of itself.

And then of course there was the initial party position to completely boycott the Seattle anti globalization demo. As one previous Spartacist public statement remarked, the history of the SL lately has been sectarian abstentionism alternating with lunges into opportunism. The failure to take any kind of agitational approach to the worldwide 2008 recession, clearly blameable on capitalism, I found particularly troubling. Opportunism and passive propagandism reached their height in 2020, leading to collapse when the pandemic hit.

The thorough years long review of all Spartacist politics was desperately necessary, and IMHO carried out successfully. On the anti imperialist united front question, a badly needed change was half a century overdue. Speaking as a former member who has been a supporter since December 1970, and who often had doubts on this question, I am very happy about that too. What’s more, that the party now recognizes that the concept that the post-Soviet era would be marked by US hegemony not inter-imperialist rivalries, something I figured out quite a while back, I like very much, loved Perrault’s Germany article, and I like even more that the party did what I did not do, draw appropriate political conclusions from that. But whenever an important change in political line takes place, there is always the danger to overshoot, and on a couple of subsidiary questions I believe that may be what happened here.

But first, I want to broaden the historical perspective on this longstanding Spartacist deviation from Communist and Trotskyist tradition explained in the central conference document, concretizing it on Spartacist origins. As a result of various unfortunate developments, such as the sabotage of the RT by Healy and Wohlforth, by the time I joined the RMC the SL was down to a very small membership and had lost almost all personal continuity with the SWP in its days as a revolutionary organization and the Trotskyist movement in general as well. Except for comrade Robertson, most of whose previous experience was in the Shachtman organization in the 1950s. I think what is remarkable is not that the SL represented perfect continuity with revolutionary Trotskyism but how close it came to that.

IMHO, Robertson tended to see the post Soviet collapse period as parallel to the 1950s, when revolutionaries in the USA indeed, like it or not, largely had to take on an attitude of “standing fast,” as in that Howard Fast book, and wait for better times, better times arriving with the Cuban Revolution and the mass civil rights movement around about when the RT was born. And his and the organization’s weakness on national and colonial questions is hard to separate from his training in the Shachtman organization.

But it needs to be remembered that the SL was beginning to break out of such weaknesses in the 1970s. Notably, with the assistance of the brief Spartacist section in Israel, the SL abandoned the traditional Shachtmanite position that Israel should have been supported against the Palestinians in 1948. I think the encounter with Samarakkody may have prevented further progress.

For the first fifteen years or so of existence of the Spartacist tendency, it did not see itself, alone, as being a nucleus for a reborn Fourth International. The Spartacists checked out Healy’s IC, the Posadistas, Lutte Ouvriere, the Lambertistes, one by one, hoping to find fellow revolutionaries to merge with but not finding any. Robertson himself quipped that his ambition was to become a footnote in revolutionary history. And during the negotiations with Samarakkody, the concept was that he would become the leader of the world movement. Negotiations did not break down over his positions on national/colonial questions, but over his capitulation to popular frontism, repudiation of his heroic vote that brought down an SLFP government, and over his bad role in the Logan trial. An unavoidable breakdown, which I think led the party to believe that they were by now the only possible nucleus for a world revolutionary party, and therefore to double down on American-centric Spartacist weaknesses on national/colonial questions.

I do not recall whether it was at that time or before or after that the party formally and publicly rejected the “anti imperialist united front” slogan, which a decade or two later after studying the Comintern documents I came to see as an error. I had inchoate doubts about the general attitude when I was a member, doubts expressed in the document I wrote on the Irish question for a green colored internal bulletin under the name “J. Holbroucke.” The seeming brilliance of the “interpenetrated peoples” document persuaded me that I was wrong. I am, by the way, glad that the party has not rejected the worthwhile kernel of that document, namely that the phenomenon of interpenetrated peoples needs to be taken into account in national questions, and that the Irish Protestants of Northern Ireland could become a nation, but that their fate has not yet been decided by history.

My conclusion through study that the anti imperialist united front was a correct slogan I again did not connect with actual political positions on colonial or national questions, seeing it as an abstract historical question. With one exception, on the Ukrainian question. As my Ph.D. dissertation required extensive familiarization with the Stalinist Soviet Union in the 1930s in general and Ukraine in particular, I always regarded the slogan for an independent Soviet Ukraine in the late 1930s as correct. But only because I felt I was more familiar with Soviet Ukrainian political realities back then than the party was, not on the grounds of political principle. That did mean that I instantly accepted the position changes in 2017 as all making sense, as well as almost all of the latest position changes. (Similarly, I also had some doubts on a few of the articles on the woman question, and the new position matches in what direction I was speculating…)

What are the exceptions? Firstly, on the Malvinas war. I am unpersuaded. It seems to me that Argentina is a US neocolony, not a British as it used to be before WWII. That the Falklands British naval base was not simply turned over to the US during WWII in return for aid against Germany was because of it becoming militarily, socially and politically irrelevant after Latin America in general and Argentina in particular was basically ceded to US imperialism by the British.

That the population is non Argentine isn’t even the point. The Galtieri dictatorship was a tool of US imperialism not British, to the point that initially many of Reagan’s advisers thought that the US should support Argentina against the UK, with Reagan overruling them because he saw the British poodle as more useful for US imperialism than the Galtieri dictatorship. For the junta to launch a war over the Falklands was a conscious diversion from the Argentine and Latin American struggle against US imperialism.

The Argentine people would not have benefited in any way from Argentina seizing those islands, nor would that have weakened the grip of US imperialism on Argentina. It is true that this strengthened Thatcher domestically, but on the other hand the fiasco weakened the junta to the point that it fell. Certainly a good thing from the perspective of the people of Argentina. I am not by the way asserting that the articles on the question in WV back then were not problematic. They probably were problematic, but the position was correct. I doubt that Spartacist articles back in the 1970s on Argentina had a fully correct position on Peronism and the Perons, who unlike the Galtieri junta were not simply just tools of US imperialism.

Also, on the Palestinian question. Most of what is said in the document is correct and necessary. Especially where it is pointed out that the old positions on Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine were essentially declarations of political bankruptcy. But the facile analogy between these two quite different questions is wrong. The fate of the Protestant population of Northern Ireland is not yet decided by history. It is not impossible that it could be simply assimilated into the Irish nation, as could have happened in the 1790s. This is not the case with Israel/Palestine, where there are two consolidated interpenetrated nations. Yes, the struggle for national liberation and the struggle for socialism must be fused. But when the document says: “The only way a revolution will happen in Israel/Palestine…is through an uprising for the national liberation of Palestinians,” this almost seems to contradict that. Fact is, that Hebrew speakers are the majority population of Israel/Palestine, and more importantly, are the great majority of the proletariat. And the Hebrew speaking workers are not like white workers in South Africa, they do not benefit materially from Palestinian oppression.

Yes, there can be no revolution in Israel/Palestine without Palestinian liberation at its center. A revolution in Palestine/Israel would for all practical purposes need to be a Palestinian/Israeli revolution by now, not just a “Palestinian revolution.” Ironically, that may well not yet have been true in the 1970s when the Spartacist position was formulated, but due to the major transformations that have happened in the last half century, it is true now. The old Spartacist concept that a revolution there was impossible without outside stimulus needs to be more completely broken from. The Israeli proletariat has a material interest in breaking from the ideological chains of Zionism, and a Palestinian revolution without the support of the Israeli proletariat is hard to imagine, because the West Bank and Gaza are essentially unviable overgrown Bantustans. Perhaps this was only a sloppy formulation that needed correcting, I hope so.

Finally, on the Constituent Assembly question. This should be seen as an unrelated question, as after all this is a return to the “old” Spartacist position of only about a decade ago. Here is where there could perhaps in my opinion be a noteworthy political danger.

Simply saying that the Constituent Assembly is “a democratic demand” is inadequate. Granted that one could critically support calling a constituent assembly in a referendum in Tunisia or Chile or any other semicolonial country, just as advocated in that article on the French Constitution of 1946 published in Spartacist #66, at that inappropriate time, in spring 2020. But the Comintern never raised the demand, it is not to be found in the theses on national and colonial questions adopted, or in anything Lenin wrote after 1917 on colonial questions. What did the Comintern raise instead? The call for worker/peasant soviets which is being mocked. That the Stalinists continued to raise this demand after the defeat of the Second Chinese Revolution does not mean that Chinese Trotskyists who opposed raising the Constituent Assembly demand instead were wrong. In the aftermath of defeat, it was time to consolidate forces defensively in the cities and perhaps concentrate on agitation among the peasantry, as proletarian revolution had been bloodily crushed. And the peasantry in China, like the peasantry in Russia, was interested in the land not a new constitution.

The contention that for immediate tactical purposes there was little difference between Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” theory and Lenin’s “bourgeois-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” from 1905 until 1917 is true but not the point. The problem with Lenin’s theory was not that it posed a “two class dictatorship,” but that it was a call for a two stage revolution. Lenin clearly stated that if there were no proletarian revolution in Germany, enabling a transition in Russia to socialist revolution, then inevitably, after this “Jacobin” dictatorship as he called it carried the bourgeois revolution as far as possible within bourgeois confines, then the bourgeoisie would come to power, and the land question would be resolved in the “American” way, with peasants becoming farmers with the kind of relatively free access to the land that American farmers had after Indians were driven out. So, quite logically, when the Tsar was overthrown, Bolsheviks in Petrograd thought that the bourgeois revolution was well underway. So as Stalin put it Kerensky, an SR or even a Trudovik, the peasant party that Lenin hoped to see created, should be supported “insofar as” he carried out revolutionary measures.

What was the concrete result of Bolshevik agitation for calling a constituent assembly? Might have been useful among the fairly small urban petty bourgeoisie, but the peasants, who were seizing the land and forming peasant soviets, had more important matters on their mind. The main result was to hand a slogan that the Bolsheviks had supported over to the Whites, as a political banner for counterrevolution, allowing them to say that the Bolsheviks had called for a Constituent Assembly and when they didn’t like the results, undemocratically dispersed it by force.

That Lenin did not recognize retrospectively that using the slogan had been erroneous, well, nobody’s perfect. What is much more important is that he renounced it for the future. It was only reintroduced by Trotsky after Lenin died, and it is doubtful that Lenin would have agreed. The notion that Trotsky ever extended the theory of permanent revolution beyond Russia before the Chinese Revolution is asserted with no evidence. And there is evidence to the contrary. Until 1926 there was very little difference between Trotsky’s perspectives for China and the Comintern’s, certainly not publicly and not even really privately. The factually useful Alexander Pantsov book reveals that Trotsky did not even oppose entry into the KMT until 1926, regarding it as a worthwhile short term entry to recruit. And if the Comintern had accepted Trotsky’s permanent revolution theory, why did Joffe even have to ask Lenin about it? As Joffe became a major implementer of the false KMT orientation, this was a question much on his mind.

On a personal note, I recall that when I was the education director for the Boston local in the late 1970s, I assigned a “comrade” just recruited from a particularly bizarre Maoist group to teach an internal class on Lenin’s “Two Tactics.” In it, he simply expounded what Lenin had to say in the book as our politics. This certainly troubled me and everyone else. I heard a decade later, from an ex member of the Boston local who had left both Boston and the party after I did, Mark Kr., that he turned out to be a police agent.

So yes, where there is democratic agitation for a Constituent Assembly, if it reaches ballot boxes, give it critical support. But our slogan is worker and peasant councils. In Tunisia and Chile, you actually got constituent assemblies, and they smothered genuine revolutionary situations.

J. Horowitz

ICL Response

London, 12 March 2024

Dear J. Horowitz,

Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting letter. Please excuse us for the delay in responding. The pace of international events and interventions in them has been quite intense, making the writing of responses to the many letters we have received very challenging.

We are happy that you find the review of the past decades of Spartacist politics to have been carried out successfully. I do find that you overemphasize the question of abstentionism vs. interventionism when you lay out the problems of the last decades and our correction of them. In fact, the ICL’s trajectory of the last 30 years until the pandemic included periods of frantic interventionism followed by periods of sterile abstention, but all characterized by an incapacity to forge a Marxist pole against liberalism. Nevertheless, many of the elements you describe are correct.

In this letter, I will try to address some of the concerns and disagreements you raise on the question of the Malvinas/Falklands War, interpenetrated peoples and the constituent assembly. On these questions and others, it is perfectly possible that we have committed over-corrections, mistakes or imprecisions. But I believe that on the fundamental questions you raised, our corrections were both necessary and correct.

The Malvinas/Falklands War

Let’s dive right into your disagreement over the Malvinas/Falklands War. You are correct to argue that Argentina was at the time (and still is) a neocolony of the U.S., not of Britain. And you are also correct to note that the war started by the junta was a “conscious diversion” from the struggle against imperialism. Our new position does not dispute this. We also agree with you that Argentina seizing the Falkland Islands would not “have weakened the grip of US imperialism on Argentina.”

If one looks at the Falklands/Malvinas war strictly from isolated criteria, like who should own these islands, the reactionary nature of the Galtieri regime, or the relation of Argentina exclusively with the U.S. separated from the broader national and international context, then a position of revolutionary defeatism might appear correct. However, this completely disappears the crucial element behind our new position: the dynamic of the revolutionary process in Argentina. This is the key element you fail to understand.

Argentina has been, since its founding and up to this day, defined first and foremost by the domination of foreign capital, first British and then American. Without this starting point, it is impossible to understand the history of this country, the popular appeal of Peronism, the succession of military dictatorships, the militant struggles of the Argentine masses, the crisis in which the country has been for decades or the recent elections of Javier Milei. The Argentine bourgeoisie is a weak class, balancing between imperialism and the proletariat, two forces which have exerted tremendous contradictory pressure, giving to the history of the successive political regimes of this country a tumultuous character. Similar to the rest of Latin America, a revolution in Argentina can only come about as a mighty upheaval against imperialist domination, shaking off in this process the yoke of the venal national bourgeoisie.

It is impossible to understand the Falklands/Malvinas War in a Marxist way without a materialist understanding of the role of the national bourgeoisie. The junta’s invasion of the Falkland Islands happened at a time of heightened class struggle against their rule. Their military adventure was indeed a diversion (or a maneuver) to try to derail these struggles by unleashing a huge wave of nationalism. And the junta attacked Britain precisely because they still hoped to maintain their alliance with the U.S. (the real master of Argentina). But merely to recognize these facts does not close the matter.

By attacking British imperialism, a historic oppressor of Argentina, the junta was seeking to exploit a deep-seated desire of the Argentine masses: liberation from foreign domination. That is why the military adventure of the junta enjoyed so much support. Under pressure from mass struggle, the junta was forced to lean on the anti-imperialist sentiment of the masses and, in doing so, succeeded in temporarily refurbishing its credentials. However, it was also playing with fire. Once unleashed, the masses’ desire for liberation is hard to contain. And that is precisely where the intervention of revolutionaries is key.

What was needed from a revolutionary vanguard was to lean on the powerful sentiment of the masses unleashed by the junta to turn it against them. What the Marxists should have said to the Argentine workers is the following: “We are for the victory of Argentina against the British because we are for the liberation of oppressed nations from imperialism. But the hated junta will make this victory a thousand times more difficult. They will prevent the implementation of every necessary measure because they fear the masses much more than the British Army. If we are to win against imperialism, the masses must take the struggle into their own hands. And if we are to strike where it hurts the most, it is not thousands of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, but right here, against the imperialists’ interests in this country. And the Peronists? Since they are tied to the property owners, they too fear the masses and will do everything to temper, limit and sabotage the liberation struggle. A real anti-imperialist uprising of the masses will quickly push the junta and the Peronists leaders into the arms of the imperialists. That is why the best and surest way for a victory against the British and for the liberation of Argentina is for the proletariat to struggle under the communist banner.”

Only in this way would it had been possible to break the masses from the national bourgeoisie and advance the struggle for revolution. In contrast, our former position of revolutionary defeatism was centrally driven by an utter incapacity to deal with the social and political dynamics of oppressed nations, and by an incapacity to defeat the nationalism of the oppressed. And in this case we were facing a huge nationalist wave unleashed by a reactionary dictatorship. Deprived of a correct approach to the national question, we were incapable of understanding the dynamics which could lead advanced workers to fight the junta one day, and then the next day support the junta’s war. We thus resorted to placing ourselves in opposition to the national sentiment of the entire nation; that is, favoring the defeat of Argentina at the hands of an imperialist power. Such a position only discredited communism in the eyes of the masses, further pushing them into the arms of the junta or the Peronists, who could then accuse the communists of capitulating to imperialism (and rightly so). In this sense, this position was not only a capitulation to imperialism, but also to the Argentine nationalists. It amounted to rejecting the struggle for Argentina’s liberation in favor of an abstract “socialism,” disconnected from the living struggles and aspirations of the masses. That is why this position has always represented an insurmountable obstacle for our tendency to establish even a small foothold in this country, where self-described Trotskyists number in the hundreds of thousands.

The junta’s war was a classic example of a Bonapartist government of a neocolony leaning on the masses in order to channel its powerful anti-imperialist sentiment in a direction that favors its own class interests, and to gain more room against foreign capital in the process. The approach of Marxists in such circumstances cannot be to dismiss in its entirety the sentiment of the masses, even if manipulated by a reactionary regime. What is needed is to lean on this very same sentiment in order to free it from the straitjacket of the national bourgeoisie. Despite the fact that the U.S. were (and are) the masters of Latin America, a victory of Argentina against the much-hated British imperialists would have given a mighty boost to the national liberation struggles throughout the continent. A defeat for Britain would have most likely led to the fall of Thatcher and pushed Britain to the brink of a deep crisis with tremendous revolutionary potential. This would have greatly weakened the U.S.-led anti-Soviet alliance, in which Britain played the number two role.

Trotsky already dealt with such a scenario, surely in a hypothetical form, but nevertheless it is worth quoting in full:

“In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of ‘fascist’ Brazil against ‘democratic’ Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!”

—“Anti-Imperialist Struggle Is Key to Liberation” (September 1938)

Of course, other organizations quoted exactly this against us. Our response was that Trotsky’s point did not apply since the war was over remote and irrelevant islands, and not on the Argentine mainland. This is certainly an important element, but only a secondary one. The Falklands/Malvinas War was a military conflict between British imperialism and a neocolony. Thatcher waged it not so much out of care for the Falklands (although these islands do present some strategic importance, contrary to what you say), but to reassert the strength of British imperialism in a time of crisis and decline, so as to send a clear message to anyone threatening British interests abroad. The thunder of the guns of the Task Force were saying to the world: “Beware, we are still a force to be reckoned with.”

Both your letter and our press at the time pointed to the fall of the junta shortly after the war as a vindication of our position. In fact, this does not vindicate anything. In general, Marxists favor bourgeois democracy against a military dictatorship, but we must first and foremost approach this question from the standpoint of the position of the proletariat, i.e., was it strengthened or weakened? The re-establishment of democracy in Argentina happened as a result of the country having been smashed by the imperialists, thus being forced into a position of increased subservience. It also followed the shift in U.S. policy in the mid 1980s, which moved away from supporting brutal military regimes in order to promote liberal democratization as a more effective tool to win the Cold War. Thus, the successive Argentine regimes of the late 1980s and 1990s were each more subservient than the other, selling off the country, taking massive loans and leading to one disaster after another.

So, of course Marxists should have welcomed the fall of the junta, but to point to this as some sort of “vindication” that the defeat of Argentina at the hands of imperialism was something progressive amounts to concealing the fundamental consequence of this war. The reality is that the defeat of Argentina did not contribute to strengthening the position of the proletariat, but only strengthened imperialism and weakened the Argentine nation.

Interpenetrated Peoples

I will not go in depth on this question. Regarding Israel and Palestine, you wrote your letter before the current bloody war against Gaza, and I am sure you are familiar with the propaganda we have put out since. (See “A Revolutionary Road for Palestinian Liberation,” Spartacist supplement, 10 October 2023, as well as various articles produced by our national sections.) I hope that these articles have dispelled the doubts you might have with what we wrote in Spartacist.

I would just note one thing on the formulation you quote, which you think might be sloppy. You only quoted the formulation partially. The full sentence reads:

“The only way a revolution will happen in Israel/Palestine or in Northern Ireland is through an uprising for the national liberation of Palestinians and Irish Catholics, which would not impinge on the national rights of the Protestants and Israelis but emancipate the workers from their ruling class and its imperialist backers.”

This is a rather algebraic formulation which our recent propaganda has developed, at least regarding Israel and Palestine. But I believe your doubts over it are the result of a misunderstanding. The essence of the above quote is that of permanent revolution; that is, fusing the national liberation of the oppressed nation with the social liberation of all workers, not least from the oppressor group. I have no reason to think you disagree with that since you yourself write that “there can be no revolution in Israel/Palestine without Palestinian liberation at its center.” Absolutely, and this is what our old propaganda has always rejected, either openly in its early days or, from the 1980s onward, by opposing Palestinian national oppression while refusing to place this struggle at the center of our revolutionary strategy.

I would only disagree with you when you say: “Ironically, that [the need to place Palestinian liberation at the center] may well not yet have been true in the 1970s when the Spartacist position was formulated, but due to the major transformations that have happened in the last half century, it is true now.” The state of Israel was established on the dispossession of the Palestinian people, right from the 1948 war. From the minute Israel was created, the statement that Israeli workers would never be free without Palestinian freedom became the overarching task of this entire region.

The Constituent Assembly and Permanent Revolution

I found your entire argumentation on the constituent assembly confused, rigid and factually wrong on many counts. The fact that you see this as a “return to the ‘old’ Spartacist position of only about a decade ago” speaks to this. One cannot separate our attitude to this demand from our general attitude to the task of revolutionaries in the neocolonial world. I cannot respond to every single argument you make so I would highly suggest that you read (or re-read) Trotsky’s writings on China as well as The Permanent Revolution to understand not only his approach to the constituent assembly, but his broader method.

First, you seem to think that our position is that if the idea of a constituent assembly, pushed by some bourgeois forces, reaches the ballot box, then we could critically support it. No. What we advocate is that in countries without formal democracy, in which the masses have illusions in bourgeois democracy, and see the resolution of their most burning needs through such outlets, we believe communist parties should be for the creation of a constituent assembly, and actively campaign for it, while linking this demand with a program resolving the agrarian and national questions. Refusing to do this amounts to leaving the democratic struggles in the hands of bourgeois forces. The reason why the masses in Chile or Tunisia were led astray is not because of some parliamentary body or demand, but because they were under bourgeois and anti-revolutionary leaderships.

Secondly, your argumentation is rigid and undialectical. You pose the constituent assembly on one side, and soviet power on the other, weighting both and pondering why are we not simply for soviets. The whole point is that in many countries, at certain stages of their development, the slogan for a constituent assembly is the essential tool to clear the way for soviet power. I would refer you to how Trotsky describes this dynamic in the Transitional Program (see the chapter “Backward Countries and the Program of Transitional Demands”). You think that we are “mocking” the call for soviets. We are not. What we do mock is the sectarian muddleheadedness of our former position, which advocated abstract calls for soviets in order to reject the democratic program and ignore the necessary political stages the masses must go through in order to reach soviet power.

Thirdly, I believe almost everything you argue regarding Trotsky and the call for a constituent assembly in China is incorrect, both politically and factually. To expose all these points would take me multiple pages. So, for now, I will only refer you to Trotsky’s writings on China, in particular the text “The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress” (4 October 1928), which I think responds to many of your points.

Fourthly, a lot of your argumentation is based on your own speculation that Lenin implicitly repudiated the call for a constituent assembly after the October Revolution, or that if he didn’t, he should have. Again, I believe this is wrong both politically and factually. Lenin defended this call in his “Theses on the Constituent Assembly” written in December 1917. All Comintern documents on the national and colonial questions, including those written by Lenin, constantly hammer on the need for Communist parties to put themselves at the forefront of democratic struggles in order to win the leadership of the masses and show the need for soviet power.

I will let Lenin himself respond to you over how crucial the call for a constituent assembly was in the Russian Revolution. He is here speaking from the floor in response to Bordiga during the debate on parliamentarism at the 1920 Second Comintern Congress:

“That is why you forget that to destroy the bourgeois parliament in Russia we were first obliged to convene the Constituent Assembly, even after our victory. […] We went through a period of bourgeois democracy. We went through it rapidly when we had to agitate for elections to the Constituent Assembly. Later, when the working class had already succeeded in seizing power, the peasants still believed in the necessity of a bourgeois parliament.

“Taking account of these backward elements, we had to proclaim the elections and show the masses, by examples and by facts, that the Constituent Assembly, which was elected at a time of dire and universal need, did not express the aspirations and demands of the exploited classes. In this way the conflict between soviet and bourgeois power became quite clear, not only to us, the vanguard of the working class, but also to the vast majority of the peasantry, to the petty office employees, the petty bourgeoisie, and so forth.”

—“Session 10, Parliamentarism (Part 2)” in Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920, Vol. 1, John Riddell, ed. (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991)

So, no, Lenin did not repudiate the call for a constituent assembly after the October Revolution. And the constituent assembly was not “undemocratically” dispersed as you say. This is probably the most repeated slander used by liberals and Kautskyites against the October Revolution. It was dispersed after the constituent assembly refused to recognize soviet power—that is, when the choice between proletarian and bourgeois democracy was clearly posed in front of the masses and as the culmination of the entire revolutionary process.

On the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry

Lastly, on the question of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” You write: “The problem with Lenin’s theory was not that it posed a ‘two class dictatorship,’ but that it was a call for a two-stage revolution.” In a sense, yes, it was. But the algebraic formula of Lenin proved to be problematic and outdated only after the first stage of the Russian Revolution (February). I would recommend you look at Appendix II of the first volume of the History of the Russian Revolution (“To the Chapter ‘Rearming the Party’”).

Trotsky and Lenin, at least from 1905 up to 1917, had a fundamental agreement on the central programmatic elements for the course of the revolution—on the need for the complete independence of the proletarian party, on the need to struggle against the liberal bourgeoisie, on the need for an alliance of workers with the peasantry and on the need for the international extension of the revolution. Lenin and Trotsky’s different prognostics were both based on these core programmatic elements. The real disagreement between Lenin and Trotsky lay in the fact that Trotsky tried, for years, to reconcile the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks until he was won to Lenin’s point of view in 1917.

If you look carefully, you will realize that all the above programmatic elements are what constitute the core of the permanent revolution. This is why it is wrong and abstract to speak of the extension of the permanent revolution only after 1927. The whole purpose of the early Comintern was to extend the experience of October to the entire world. So the view that Trotsky extended his theory outside of Russia only after 1927 necessarily implies that the first four Comintern Congresses were at odds with the theory of the permanent revolution!

Our former propaganda used the fact that Lenin’s formula became outdated at a certain historical stage to essentially brand Lenin as a semi-Menshevik from 1905 to 1917. Our critics, like the League for the Fourth International or both Bolshevik Tendencies, have made a big deal out of our correction on this question. They are outraged that we defend Lenin before 1917, and that we say that there was an essential identity between him and Trotsky. The reason for that is simply that they have understood nothing of what the permanent revolution really is.

One should reflect on the fact that, apart from the party question, the idea that there was a fundamental distinction in the program of Lenin and Trotsky before 1917 is a Stalinist creation, a complete fabrication which was wielded to attack the Left Opposition. The whole purpose of Trotsky’s book, The Permanent Revolution, was precisely to show the fundamental identity between his view and Lenin’s against those of the Stalinist epigones.

There are multiple other points from your letter to which I did not respond and which would surely be worth addressing. But this letter is already very long, and I will limit myself to this for now. I hope I made a convincing case and was able to make you re-think some of these doubts you had.

Vincent David
For the International Communist League