March 2001   

Part II

ICL Decrees: No More “Reiss Factions”

We noted above that the ICL’s claim that the Stalinists led the counterrevolution amounts to a declaration that the bureaucracy is no longer a contradictory layer. As a corollary of this revision, the ICL asserts that a “Reiss faction” of the bureaucracy can no longer arise, that is, a grouping that could be won to workers political revolution and the banner of the Fourth International. This was put forward in a document by Joseph Seymour, “On Trotsky’s Concept of a ‘Reiss Faction’ in the Soviet Bureaucracy” which was reprinted in Spartacist (No. 55, Autumn 1999) and is quoted at length in “Looking…” and “Still Looking….” Seymour wrote this document in December 1995 at the end of a fight inside the ICL over the work of its German section, the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany (SpAD), directed at winning elements from the Kommunistische Plattform (KPF) of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the social-democratic party left over from the Stalinist SED. 

Spartacist huffs and puffs about the “false view of Jan Norden, then editor of Workers Vanguard, that in our fight for proletarian political revolution in East Germany (DDR) in 1989-90, the ICL was searching for a Trotskyist wing of the Stalinist bureaucracy.” Seymour’s document and several previous issues of WV falsely claim that this was raised “in Norden’s speech at Humboldt University last January,” which didn’t even mention a “Reiss faction.” Now that it’s trying to clean up its act, WV partially quotes from a November 1995 internal document by Norden where he points out that in an earlier document about the KPF he “raised the ‘Reiss faction’ – a reference to Trotsky’s point that the bureaucracy, due to its dual nature, will split under the impact of a political revolution – in order to make the point, in particular regarding the Communist Platform, that there was no such section of the bureaucracy in the DDR.” 

But for the ICL today, even raising the issue is deemed Stalinophilic. According to Seymour, there could not be any “Reiss faction” of the bureaucracy in the post-WWII period because Stalin had succeeded in exterminating any potential left opposition in the bureaucracy in the Moscow Purges. The ICL’s claim that Trotsky’s analysis of the bureaucracy splitting is no longer valid and hasn’t been valid for half a century contradicts innumerable polemics against Stalinophobic pseudo-Trotskyists published in the Spartacist press in the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s which repeatedly invoked the possibility of a Reiss faction. And Seymour can’t claim originality: the identical argument was raised by such revisionists as David North and the BT.

Ignace Reiss 

Ignace Reiss (Poretsky) was a long-time member of Soviet military intelligence who broke with Stalin in 1937 and heroically declared himself a supporter of the Fourth International. Shortly afterward he was murdered by Stalinist assassins. Trotsky saw Reiss as a representative of a potential revolutionary section within the bureaucracy, as opposed to openly pro-capitalist elements symbolized by one Fyodor Butenko, a Soviet diplomat who defected to fascist Italy. In the words of the 1938 Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International, “all shades of political thought are to be found among the bureaucracy: from genuine Bolshevism (Ignace Reiss) to complete fascism (F. Butenko).” 

Trotsky was emphasizing here the heterogeneous nature of the bureaucracy as a petty-bourgeois caste perched upon the collectivized property forms of a workers state, an unstable layer that would polarize or disintegrate under the impact of capitalist counterrevolution: “If tomorrow the bourgeois-fascist grouping, the ‘faction of Butenko,’ so to speak, should attempt the conquest of power, the ‘faction of Reiss’ inevitably would align itself on the opposite side of the barricades.” Thus Trotsky’s conception of a “Reiss faction” had nothing in common with the idea put forward by Isaac Deutscher that the Stalinist bureaucracy would reform itself, an illusion propagated by the followers and political heirs of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel.

So why no more “Reiss factions” today, according to the ICL? Seymour begins by setting up his straw man, defining a “Reiss faction” in the narrowest possible terms: “As the term ‘faction’ clearly denotes, Trotsky was here projecting the emergence of a left opposition within the bureaucracy in advance of a political revolution or the collapse of Stalinist bonapartism in society at large” (emphasis in original). Yet as Trotsky’s reference to “the ‘faction of Butenko,’ so to speak” makes clear, he was not referring to pre-existing organized groupings. And concerning Reiss, the Transitional Program explicitly states: “The revolutionary elements within the bureaucracy, only a small minority, reflect, passively it is true, the socialist interests of the proletariat.” One would hardly describe a formal Trotskyist left opposition as passively reflecting the revolutionary interests of the working class.

Trotsky considered Reiss’ adhesion to the Fourth International as symptomatic of suppressed tendencies within the bureaucracy inside the USSR, not as evidence of a cohered Bolshevik-Leninist opposition. Trotsky’s article on the murder of Reiss (“A Tragic Lesson,” September 1937) was particularly concerned with why Reiss waited so long before declaring for the Fourth International: “the monstrous Moscow trials were required, and not only the first, but also the second, to bring Reiss to the actual breaking point. We may assume with certainty that in the ranks of the bureaucracy there are quite a few who feel as Reiss did. They have contempt for their milieu. They hate Stalin. And, at the same time, they endlessly toil on and on.” Trotsky here portrays someone reacting under the hammer blows of events and choosing a side.

Moreover, rather than posing a Trotskyist opposition group within the bureaucracy existing “in advance of a political revolution,” as Seymour claims, Trotsky repeatedly linked the crystallization of a “Reiss faction” with the polarization brought about by a crisis posing the stark alternatives of political revolution or social counterrevolution. In addition to his reference cited above about different “factions” of the bureaucracy lining up on opposite sides of the barricades, Trotsky writes elsewhere: 

“Of course, in the ranks of the bureaucracy there are sincere and revolutionary elements of the Reiss type. But they are not numerous…. We may be sure that the more decisive the discontent of the toilers becomes the deeper will the differentiation within the bureaucracy penetrate. But in order to achieve this we must theoretically comprehend, politically mobilize and organize the hatred of the masses against the ruling caste.”
– “It Is Necessary to Drive the Bureaucracy and Aristocracy Out of the Soviets” (July 1938)
This was a constant theme for Trotsky. Five years earlier, he wrote:
“A real civil war could develop not between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the resurgent proletariat but between the proletariat and the active forces of the counterrevolution. In the event of an open clash between the two mass camps, there cannot even be talk of the bureaucracy playing an independent role. Its polar flanks would be flung to the different sides of the barricade.”
–“The Class Nature of the Soviet State” (October 1933)
This is clearly a very different perspective than the ICL’s view of the bureaucracy leading the counterrevolution. 

Having decreed that a Reiss faction means essentially a Trotskyist cell in the bureaucracy, Seymour then declares ex cathedra: “In this sense the potential for a Reiss faction was specific to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. It is not a trans-historic concept applicable to all Stalinist bureaucracies in all times and places. There are no Chinese Ignace Reisses in Beijing today or Cuban Ignace Reisses in Havana.” And again: “A Reiss faction in the specific sense that Trotsky conceived it was no longer possible in the bureaucracies of the post-World War II Sino-Soviet states.” Leaving aside that Trotsky nowhere decreed that a Reiss faction was a cohered Fourth Internationalist opposition organized prior to a political revolution, if a Reiss faction is “no longer possible” post-WWII, why not?

The possibility of a Reiss faction, dixit Seymour, “derived neither from the sociological nature of the Soviet bureaucracy nor the particularities of Stalinist ideology but rather from certain historically conditioned features of the Soviet bureaucracy in the 1930s.” To wit: some senior cadres of the CPSU had been Bolsheviks before 1917, others joined during the Civil War, many had been part of the Trotskyist, Zinovievite and smaller left oppositions in the 1920s, etc. Moreover, “A major aim of Stalin’s Great Purges was to eliminate that potential by physically exterminating former left oppositionists and other critically minded Soviet officials and intellectuals. And he succeeded in doing so.” Yet this leaves out a key fact: Trotsky’s analysis of a “faction of Reiss” did not predate the purges. Indeed, in the Transitional Program he forecast the existence of such a layer after the purges, in the context of a crisis of the Stalinist regime.

Seymour goes on to ask, “But could a ‘Reiss faction’ in a looser sense – a left opposition of a roughly centrist character – have developed in the postwar Stalinist regimes?” Again, his answer is no: “I believe this was possible only in the first generation of the bureaucracy when many of its members were originally leftist militants in reactionary capitalist states.” Now this is a curious argument indeed, since in East Germany the first generation of the bureaucracy was still running things, including party chief Honecker, security chief Mielke and others who had been jailed by the Nazis. Seymour even mentions that “the experience of the redoubtable DDR intelligence chief Markus Wolf was somewhat comparable” to that of Reiss. Moreover, the “first generation” is still around in Cuba, Vietnam and China today. So that doesn’t exactly get him anywhere.

Seymour intones the Marxist axiom that being determines consciousness. Yet where Trotsky explained the potential for a “Reiss faction” in terms of (a) the contradictory nature of the bureaucracy and (b) a crisis of the Stalinist regime, the ICL’s theoretician portrays a clot of aging pensioners animated by vestigial remnants of consciousness acquired before the rise of the bureaucracy. This “generational” analysis has more in common with Mormon genealogy than with Marxism. It resorts to rank empiricism – deducing that since no “Reiss faction” has appeared in recent decades, therefore there can be none – to declare Trotsky’s analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy outdated. In a similar fashion, the ICL now renounces the key thesis of the Transitional Program – that “the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of leadership of the proletariat” – declaring in its new Declaration of Principles that this “predates the present deep regression in proletarian consciousness.”

Since according to the ICL, a “Reiss faction” of the bureaucracy has been impossible at least since World War II, why do they suddenly discover this now? “During Cold War II it was necessary for us to emphasize the contradictory nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy against the pseudo-Trotskyist advocates of the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ revolution in the Soviet sphere. But that contradiction must be understood dialectically, not statically,” writes Seymour. The theme for today, he says, is that “The historical tendency of all Stalinist bureaucracies is to bring about capitalist restoration by one means or another.” In addition to implicitly saying the ICL earlier “bent the stick” in one direction and is now bending it in another, this is inaccurate. Rather, the role of the Stalinist bureaucracies is to prepare the way for capitalist counterrevolution in which the bourgeoisie takes power, displacing the parasitic bureaucracy which disintegrates as the workers states it fed off and betrayed are destroyed. The new ICL “theory” is no dialectical understanding of the contradictions of Stalinism but an attempt to negate them. It is a crude falsification to “update” Trotskyism in the spirit of the bourgeoisie’s “death of communism.” 

Revisionist Minds Think Alike

“That was then, this is now” is the ICL’s new message. They’re not the only ones pushing that line. In “Where Is China Going?” we pointed out how the ICL’s line that Stalinism is leading the counterrevolution in China echoed, almost word for word, the position of the British Workers Power group (which has since declared China capitalist). Here Seymour’s arguments on a “Reiss faction” uncannily parallel those used by David North’s “International Committee” to condemn the ICL. An article in North’s International Workers Bulletin of 7 October 1996 on the expulsions from the SL (reprinted in the ICL’s Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League Bulletin No. 10, January 1997) reviles our slogan “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan” and singles out a paragraph in Spartacist No. 43-44 (Summer 1989), stating: 

“In the USSR the appearance of capitalist-restorationist forces can lead to an open clash between them and the proletariat, which will inevitably split the bureaucracy into its polar components. Soviet politics thrown into turmoil by glasnost demonstrate anew Trotsky’s observation that ‘all shades of political thought are to be found among the bureaucracy: from genuine Bolshevism (Ignace Reiss) to complete fascism (F. Butenko)’.”
This restatement of basic Trotskyism brought yelps from the Northites, who wrote, referring to the Stalinist purges of the ’30s:
“This act of political genocide effectively stamped out the last remnants of revolutionary Marxism within the state and ruling party of the USSR. To base oneself on the supposed existence of a revolutionary faction within the bureaucracy in 1989 was to ignore nearly six decades of history and the river of blood separating Stalinism from Bolshevism.”
Precisely Seymour’s argument. Ironically, even as the Northites penned their 1996 article, the ICL had internally already abandoned the long-standing position that North & Co. were polemicizing against! 

In early 1990, at the height of the ICL’s intervention in East Germany, it put out a pamphlet, Trotskyism: What It Isn’t and What It Is! in German and English, later translated into Russian, that devoted two pages to attacking the Northites precisely over this issue. North & Co.’s claim that Stalinism today is “counterrevolutionary through and through” directly contradicted Trotsky’s references to a “faction of Reiss,” the ICL pointed out. The Northites’ revision of Trotsky’s analysis of the bureaucracy was their way of junking the Trotskyist position of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union and justifying support to every reactionary anti-Soviet force on the planet, from Afghan mujahedin to Polish Solidarnosc. 

Another treacherous pseudo-Trotskyist outfit that attacked the ICL over the issue of a “Reiss faction was the misnamed International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT). The IBT article, “Robertsonites in Wonderland” (1917 No. 10, Third Quarter 1991), complained of the Spartacist intervention in the DDR in 1989-90, “The ICL attempts to justify its policy of currying favor of the Stalinists by citing Trotsky’s analysis of the bureaucracy.” Tops on the IBT’s list of examples of supposedly “currying favor with the Stalinists” was…“The SpAD’s Debacle at Treptow”! Not coincidentally, the German Northites of the BSA (Socialist Workers League) also joined in slandering the quarter-million-strong demonstration initiated by the Spartakists against the Nazi defacing of the Soviet war memorial. While the bourgeois press was denouncing “The SED’s Nazi Trick,” the BSA’s Neue Arbeiterpresse (19 January) chimed in:

“Today the campaign ‘against the fascist danger in the DDR’ serves to save and restabilize the Stalinist state apparatus, army, secret services, judicial system, etc.”
In denying the possibility of a “Reiss faction,” the ICL has adopted the outlook of the very anti-Trotskyists it fought tooth and nail in 1989-90. This is the sordid company they now keep. And so, as is now the case on one issue after another, the ICL must attack its own former self, the revolutionary Marxist positions it used to defend.

Get Real – The ICL in the DDR

In his November 1995 ICL internal document, Norden wrote, “We didn’t simply ignore the SED, the party of the East German Stalinist bureaucracy and throw all its members into one bag. We directed propaganda to the SED conferences, seeking to engage interested elements in debate and discussion.” Reporting on an issue of Spartakist/Arbeiterpressekorrespondenz (No. 7, 15 December 1989) directed at an SED conference, Workers Vanguard commented at the time: 

“Many thousands of SED party members, not excluding sections of the leadership, and also not excluding many of those who have recently quit the party in protest, genuinely seek to root out Stalinism and defend the collectivized basis of the DDR against capitalist reabsorption.”
WV No. 492, 29 December 1989

Issues of Spartakist/Arbeiterpressekorrespondenz, daily bulletin put out by the ICL in East Germany at height of struggle for political revolution, against capitalist reunification. This was first time Trotskyist propaganda was put out in deformed workers state on a mass scale, with thousands of copies sold of each issue. Arprekorr No. 7 (left) included article "To the SED Congress: Neither Stalin nor Kautsky! For a Bolshevik Party Like That of Lenin and Trotsky!" No. 8 (center) included "Greetings to the Special Congress of the SED." Arprekorr addressed "Internationalist Greetings to Our Soviet Soldier and Officer Comrades" (right). 

The next issue of Arprekorr (No. 8, 18 December 1989) printed “Greetings to the Special Congress of the SED,” saying “No doubt there are in the ranks of the SED many serious and honest workers who hate Stalinism but want to find the way to genuine communism.” A program in brief, “What Do the Spartakists Want,” printed in each issue of Arprekorr, stated: 

“We stand with those members and recent ex-members of the Stalinist SED, as well as numerous others seeking to build a socialist world, who vow that the heirs of Hitler must not expropriate that which, by the workers’ toil, has arisen out of the ruins.” 
Recall that the SED was the political vehicle of the governing bureaucracy. Does the ICL now renounce this work, since it claims the SED bureaucracy “led the counterrevolution”? 

Publishing a daily news sheet, organizing in factories, initiating demonstrations including the massive 3 January 1990 Treptow mobilization, running candidates of the Spartakist Workers Party in the DDR elections, the ICL sought to build a Trotskyist party from workers (German and immigrant), students and also elements breaking from the Stalinist SED. Through this work, the SpAD won several former officers of the East German army (the NVA). One could consider them a miniature “Reiss faction.” They were not numerous, and they were from the bottom rungs of the bureaucracy. But Trotsky himself emphasized that a revolutionary faction would be very small compared to pro-capitalist elements of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Here we see the reality behind the ICL’s “no more Reiss faction” line. The issue arose in the SL when Nelson attacked Norden for authoring the SpAD campaign to win recruits out of the Kommunistische Plattform (KPF) of the PDS. In fact, the group of NVA officers and soldiers won to the SpAD were all members of the KPF. Today, Seymour with his generational analysis writes off any possibility of revolutionary recruitment among younger elements, declaring that “the second, not to speak of the third, generation of the Stalinist bureaucracies were and are made up of people who inherited or were co-opted as youth into positions of social privilege and political influence.” Yet here were young officers on the front line of Soviet bloc forces confronting NATO in the Cold War who thought they were defending socialism. When they saw the Stalinists selling out the DDR before their eyes, they became open to Trotskyism. 

Significantly, the SpAD has since lost all its NVA recruits. It also won the odd East German gilded youth “coopted...into positions of social privilege and political influence.” That is who stuck, and who today regurgitate ICL elucubrations about the impossibility of a “Reiss faction.”

Another example of the potential for a “Reiss faction” in the Stalinist bureaucracy is an incident related by Norden in his Humboldt University speech, titled “Who Defended the DDR? Who Fought Against Capitalist Reunification? The Spartakists on the Collapse of Stalinist Rule in East Europe.” (This is significant because the ICL now pretends this speech belittled the Spartacist work in the DDR.) The first issue of Arprekorr was headlined “No Sellout of the DDR! Workers and Soldiers Councils Now!” An NVA soldier visiting Berlin from the north told in an interview how he had gotten hold of a copy of the paper and together with his comrades formed a soldiers council. Norden related:

“It turns out that when this soldier returned to the barracks, he was sitting in the canteen with the TLD [Trotzkistische Liga Deutschlands, the ICL section before it fused with East German Spartakist-Gruppen to form the SpAD] material that he had brought with him, when his political officer went past and saw the word Trotsky or Trotskyist. The soldier thought, ‘Oh shit, now I’m really in for it.’ But no, the officer proposed to him an exchange. He had secreted away Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution and offered to lend it to the soldier in exchange for these pamphlets and leaflets. Soldiers councils were also built in a couple other units there on the Polish border, and we also later won comrades from the same units to the SpAD.”
Here we had what was likely a member of the “second generation” of Stalinist bureaucrats, the NVA Politoffizier, trading Trotsky’s book for Trotskyist pamphlets from a soldier who together with his comrades of the “third generation” then formed soldiers councils, out of which several officers and soldiers were recruited to the SpAD!

This incident introduces a reality factor in contrast to the ICL’s anti-Marxist, genealogical analysis supposedly proving the impossibility of the “Reiss faction.” It’s no accident, moreover, that these officers were recruited not to the Stalinophobia of the IBT and Northites but to the authentic Trotskyism then upheld by the ICL. At the Humboldt speech, IBTers declared that there was a “blood line” between the officers of the East German army and East German workers. An SpAD member who was a former NVA tank commander got up and powerfully refuted the IBT Stalinophobes. 

The SpAD’s experience in the DDR is not unique. A remarkably similar story is related in the issue of Revolutionary History (Vol. 7, No. 3) published last year on Trotskyism in Cuba. A report by an American SWPer from the Internal Bulletin of the International Secretariat of March 1963 deals with his discussions with the Cuban Trotskyists, followers of the current led by J. Posadas: 

“Incidentally, Molina [one of the Cuban Posadistas] told me of an incident that happened just recently where a comrade met a compañero with whom he had fought in the hills who is now a captain in the G2 [Cuban military intelligence]. The G2 man did not know the other fellow was a Trotskyist, and he held up a copy of The Revolution Betrayed which he was reading and advised the comrade to read this guy Trotsky, as he was pretty good. At this, the comrade said he was a Trotskyist, and then the G2 man clasped him warmly and asked him if he could get him some more books by the same author.”

Are these incidents unique? Not at all. The ICL found a remarkable receptivity to Trotskyist views not only among East German military personnel but also among officers of the Soviet Army. It sold hundreds, perhaps several thousand copies of its Russian language publications in and around Soviet army bases in East Germany. The ICL twice addressed large gatherings of Soviet officers, including a May 1991 meeting of “300 Soviet officers and soldiers commemorating Red Army victory over Nazi Third Reich, at air base in East Germany,” as a picture caption noted in the Spartacist pamphlet “How the Soviet Workers State Was Strangled.” A photo showed rows of Soviet military men, mostly officers, listening to an ICL speaker at a podium with the flag of the Fourth International. Another shot showed uniformed air force men looking at Spartacist literature (including the Spartacist bulletin talking of a Reiss faction and featuring the picture of Ignace Reiss). 

What was the ICL doing there – particularly if these were the very forces the ICL now says were the spearhead of counterrevolution! – if it had no thought of recruiting a “Reiss faction” from among these military members of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy? Alternatively, since it is rampantly revising a host of questions, will the ICL now claim that military officers are not part of the bureaucratic apparatus? If so, let’s hear it. More likely they will prefer silence on this question, as on so many others.

The ICL and Hungary 1956

These comments about the ICL’s actual work in Germany, in which comrades who were expelled in 1996 and are now part of the League for the Fourth International played a leading role, point to what lies behind the ICL’s line change(s) on the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The current ICL position that there was not, is not and cannot be a “Reiss faction” of the bureaucracy from 1945 on, and that the Stalinist bureaucracy led the counterrevolution, is a line for budding Stalinophobes…or dead-end abstentionists who are prepared to raise such social-democratic arguments in order to stop any work directed at the Stalinist milieu. The tortuous 1995-96 discussion in the ICL about its German work showed deep social-democratic inroads in the SpAD, in particular among the older West German cadres teleguided by Al Nelson feeding them Shachtmanoid lines. 

More broadly, the ICL’s line is that of pseudo-Trotskyists who have no intention of actually fighting for proletarian political revolution in China or any of the other remaining deformed workers states. The ICL’s analysis is the handmaiden of organizational considerations, notably its concern to polish its self-image, and social reality be damned. Anyone who seriously attempts to break the Stalinist stranglehold and fight for authentic communism would pay great attention to any possibility of individuals or groupings breaking from the bureaucracy to come over to the revolutionaries. Moreover, those who claim that the Stalinists “led” the counterrevolution and that there can be no revolutionary “Reiss faction” recruited out of the bureaucracy are actually capitulating to and alibiing the imperialist bourgeoisie. In fact, in those cases where a political revolution has taken hold the Stalinist apparatus invariably shatters, often with sections fraternizing with or going over to the insurgent workers.

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 is a key case in point. Today the ICL admits that the 1989 workers revolt in China had echoes even in the higher echelons of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer corps, at the same time as it denies that elements can be won out of sections of the bureaucracy to a Leninist-Trotskyist opposition. Yet in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, groups of military cadres and officials joined the workers on the barricades fighting for what they understood to be communism. In “Where Is China Going?” we noted how PLA units initially refused to attack the 1989 Tienanmen protests, indicating the possibility of a split in the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy. We added: “This occurred in Hungary in 1956, where the head of the army (Pál Maléter) and the head of the Budapest police (Sándor Kopácsi) went over to the insurgents.” In “Still Looking…,” WV allows that these “were heroic individuals who had fought as Communist partisans against Nazi occupation forces in World War II and were personally opposed to capitalist restoration,” but declares this irrelevant as they remained “within the framework of Stalinist nationalism and ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the imperialist order.”

Colonel Pál Maléter (left) joined Hungarian workers uprising in 1956. Colonel Sándor Kopácsi (right), head of Budapest police, was won over by revolutionary council. Maléter was later executed after Kremlin suppressed uprising. ICL now says militants like Maléter “might well have been won to the Trotskyist program” in course of political struggle, but denies possibility of a “Reiss faction.” Photos: Paris Match (left), Sándor Kopácsi, Au nom de la classe ouvrière (right).

This was in a situation where the developing Hungarian political revolution was defeated by the armed force of the Moscow Stalinists. We cited the examples of Maléter and Kopácsi to indicate the potential for a split in the bureaucracy when faced with a workers insurrection. They were not just “individuals” who were “personally” opposed to counterrevolution: the bulk of the Hungarian Army officers went over to the insurgent workers. True, in the absence of a Trotskyist party, they did not break from the ideological framework of Stalinism. That is not an argument for denying any possibility of sectors that could be won to the revolutionary cause in the heat of a working-class upheaval; instead it underlines the urgency of organizing the nucleus of a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard. As part of organizing the proletariat for a political revolution to oust the disintegrating Stalinist caste which is preparing the way for counterrevolution, winning socialist-minded elements from the bureaucracy could help advance this struggle, particularly from a tactical/military standpoint . 

Shane Mage, later a leader of the Revolutionary Tendency of the SWP which was the forerunner of the Spartacist League, wrote a 1957 article on “‘Truth’ and Hungary – A Reply to Herbert Aptheker” (the theoretical hack of the American CP), quoting an interview with Maléter:

“The National Guard, the revolutionary committees and the workers councils are solidly in the hands of freedom fighters who are fighting on two fronts: against the Stalinists and against the reactionaries.” 
–reprinted in the Young Socialist pamphlet, The Hungarian Revolution (1959)
In another interview, Maléter declared, “‘if there are people who are thinking about going backward, then we will see,’ and he put his hand on his revolver holster.” So what about Maléter and Kopácsi? At the end of five tabloid pages of “Still Looking…,” in which it is explained that there can be no “Reiss faction” of the Stalinist bureaucracy, WV opines: “In the course of such political struggle, elements like Maléter might well have been won to the Trotskyist program”! With that statement, the whole elaborate construct built up by Seymour and regurgitated by WV about the impossibility of a “Reiss faction” in the post-WWII world collapses like a house of cards. If it might well have happened in Hungary ’56 (though according to Seymour it was theoretically impossible since ’45), why can’t it happen elsewhere tomorrow? The ICL’s arguments are revealed as the smokescreen of centrist fakers, armchair theoreticians who have no intention of organizing a proletarian political revolution. 

ICL Ricochets Rightwards

We have pointed out that following counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and East Europe the ICL lost its moorings. Beginning with a drift toward abstentionism and a Kautskyite centrist policy of “passive radicalism,” it began to flail about wildly on a number of issues. 

  • Desperately seeking to make a case that we denied permanent revolution in Mexico, it came up with the argument that in Mexico the struggle must be directed against “elements of the Spanish colonial feudal heritage” and even “feudal peonage in the countryside.” For a year the ICL insisted on the survival of feudal remnants in Mexico in polemics against the IG, which we demolished by pointing out that “Latin American feudalism” was a recurrent theme of the U.S. bourgeois press and a hoary remnant of Stalinism used to justify its reformist “two-stage” revolution. Then the ICL precipitously abandoned this claim when called to order by Jim Robertson (who had first defended the “Mexican feudalism” line). 
  • In 1997, Workers Vanguard raised the call for an independent “Soviet Tibet” just as the imperialist “Free Tibet” chorus was reaching a crescendo, and then a year later renounced this piece of revisionism. 
  • After almost ten years of denouncing the “Cárdenas popular front” in Mexico, on the eve of Cárdenas’ June 1997 election to the Mexico City government it suddenly declared that no such popular front exists or could exist in a semi-colonial country without a mass workers party. 
  • After decades of calling for independence for the U.S.’ Caribbean colony, in early 1998 it declared that it does “not currently advocate independence for Puerto Rico.” After we raked them over the coals for this capitulation to “their own” bourgeoisie, the Spartacist League now says (in its latest “Programmatic Statement”) that it passively and quietly “favor independence for Puerto Rico” while not retracting its refusal to advocate political freedom from Yankee colonialism.
  • After long labeling Jörg Haider and his Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) fascist, at the point they came into office last year as part of a coalition with the conservative People’s Party the ICL suddenly decided that this admirer of the SS and Hitler’s “employment policies,” the son of Nazis and instigator of anti-“foreigner” campaigns that unleashed terror bombing of immigrant workers hostels by Haider supporters, was not a fascist after all. The ICL’s explanation that the FPÖ is just an “electoral machine” reflects the electoral cretinism of the social-democratic left, which uses the same arguments in denying Haider is a fascist.
  • Now, after several years of insisting against the IG/LFI that the Stalinist bureaucracy led the counterrevolution in the DDR and USSR and is leading the counterrevolution in China today, revising Trotsky’s understanding of the dual character of the bureaucracy, they render their revisionism “more precise” by saying that sections of the Stalinists may pull back at the crucial moment. Yet simultaneously the ICL insists that there can be no more “Reiss faction” of the bureaucracy.
  • Generalizing its defeatist political line, the ICL declared that the central programmatic conclusion of the founding document of Trotsky’s Fourth International was outdated. Where the Transitional Program declared that the world situation is “chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of leadership of the proletariat,” the ICL decreed that this “predates the present deep regression of proletarian consciousness.” Not the misleaders but the working masses are the key problem, in its view. This negates the very reason for being of the Fourth International.
This is the record of a centrist current that has cut its programmatic anchor to Trotskyism and is tossed about in the seas of the class struggle. While its initial motivation may be factional, its gyrations reflect the pressure of the imperialist bourgeoisie and social democracy. The fight to reforge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International must include a thorough and rigorous refutation of this revisionism in order to prepare a vanguard capable of leading the hard struggles ahead. Those who have abandoned this fight in all but name may continue to concoct ever-new theories for their own self-justification, but in doing so they prove themselves worthless to the proletariat, for which the crisis of revolutionary leadership remains the central issue to be resolved as it faces the stark alternatives of socialism or capitalist barbarism. n
Seymour contra Seymour

Remarkably, less than a year before his December 1995 treatise declaring that a “Reiss faction” of the Stalinist bureaucracy has been impossible since the end of World War II, the semi-official theoretician of the International Communist League, Joseph Seymour, wrote another piece with a very different analysis and opposite conclusions. In his document, “On Stalinism and Social Democracy in Cold War Germany and the Fourth Reich” (31 March 1995), Seymour wrote:

“As Trotsky pointed out, the Soviet bureaucracy contained all currents of political opinion, from fascist to Bolshevik. These contradictory and even antagonistic elements found their expression in the different aspects of official and even more so unofficial Soviet ideology and political culture. The post World War II expansion of Stalinism produced a world movement of qualitatively diverse social and political components – the bureaucracies of degenerated/deformed workers states at different socio-economic levels (the Soviet Union, China, the DDR), mass reformist workers parties (France, Italy, Chile), peasant-based nationalist-populist parties (South Vietnam) and left-wing propaganda groups (Britain, the United States, Argentina). The ‘ideological’ schisms which ripped apart the ‘world Communist movement’ beginning in the late 1950s (Maoism, Third World guerrillaism, later Eurocommunism) expressed the conflicting interests of these diverse elements.”
The same document also observes that “the counterrevolutions in the Soviet Union and the DDR had different immediate causes and effects” (emphasis in original). While key sectors of the Soviet bureaucracy supported the restoration of capitalism and many became capitalists themselves, “the DDR bureaucrats were not striving to become capitalists and could not have done so in any case given the strong pre-existing West German imperialist bourgeoisie. When the Gorbachev government, reflecting the rapid disintegration of the Soviet bureaucracy, agreed to the capitalist reunification of Germany, the DDR bureaucracy simply capitulated and has since adapted to the Fourth Reich by transmuting into a regional social-democratic party,” the PDS, which “continues to be the target of anti-Communist witchhunting and demagogy by the German bourgeoisie, its SPD agents and its state” (emphasis in original).

No Stalinism “leading the counterrevolution” here! This document, Seymour’s swan song as a Trotskyist theorist, “predated” his discovery of which way the wind was blowing in the ICL’s internal discussion over Germany. After a judicious interval he weighed in with his disquisition belatedly writing the “Reiss faction” out of post-WWII history. Where Karl Kautsky wrote that “paper is patient” (which Stalin translated as “paper will take whatever is written on it”), Seymour just “pounds the delete key.” n

Return to Part I:  ICL Still Caught Between Shachtman and Trotsky (March 2001)
Read also:  ICL Between Shachtman and Trotsky (21 August 2000) 

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