Max Shachtman

The Rift in the Lovestone Group

The Alleged ‘Trotskyist Centrism’ and the Truly Bureaucratic Centrism

(November 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 52, 18 November 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The declaration of the Lovestone majority On the ‘New’ Party and Trotskyism is equally divided between a general philippic against the idea of a new Communist International and new Communist parties in every country, and a specific assault upon that current in the revolutionary movement which is in the forefront of the new movement: the Left Opposition. Before passing over to a consideration of the standpoint of the official minority (Zam), let us devote a few observations to the latter half of the Lovestone document.

As is known, there is hardly a name which has not been hauled out of the catalogue of abuse for the purpose of designating the so-called “Trotskyists”: Left Mensheviks, Right Mensheviks, counter-revolutionists, super-industrialists, anti-industrialists, super-anti-Kulaks, pro-Kulaks, Leftists covered with right phrases or Rightists covered with Left phrases. The last name to be attached to the Opposition would seem to have eliminated the possibility of any of the previous ones recurring in Stalinist literature: “the vanguard of the world counter-revolution”.

Lovestone now retraces these steps – as if everything he said yesterday had not been meant seriously – and solemnly explains that we are taking the place of Austro-Marxism and are being transformed (at this late date!) “from a tendency in world Communism to the ideological focal point of a new international Centrist concentration ... Today it is Trotskyism that serves as the binding force, as the ideological platform, for the various groups attempting to crystallize an international organization ‘in-between’ the Socialist and Communist Internationals. Trotskyism is rapidly becoming Centrism in its contemporary classical form.”

The Austro-Marxian School

The identification of our fundamental standpoint with that of the Austro-Marxian school was first made some eight or nine years ago by the Russian party bureaucracy, for the purpose of covering up its own reconciliation with Centrism. Lovestone’s revival of the calumny has no loftier aim in mind.

The fundamental attitude of the Austro-Marxists towards that problem in which are comprehended the essential questions of contemporary revolutionary politics – the proletarian revolution in Russia – is not so obscure or unknown as to permit of much confusion. According to them, .Marxism left no room in its conception for the outbreak of the first proletarian revolution in a country like Russia. The Russian revolution is therefore not only illegitimate, but it is not and cannot be socialist, and whatever it may be, it is doomed in advance. Russia, as an economically backward and capitalistically “immature” country, simply did not have the right to a socialist revolution, and for arrogating to itself this right it is doomed to the brimstone and hellfire of damnation. Russia should have waited its turn until a more advanced capitalist country – Austria let us say – had its revolution first. And Austria must wait with its revolution until its more powerful capitalist neighbors succumb to the revolution, otherwise isolated proletarian Austria would succumb to the counter-revolutionary forces around it. And Germany and Hungary must wait with their proletarian revolutions, for should they materialize, the French and English imperialists might become so wrathful at the impudence of the former Entente proletariat as to smite them with their superior military forces.

Austro-Marxism and Bureaucratic Centrism

These elaborate apologetics of Austro-Marxism for the policy of passivity, capitulation and despair pursued by Messrs. Adler, Bauer, Renner and Co., are based on an approach to the problem of proletarian revolution which is blood brother to that of bureaucratic Centrism in the Soviet Union today. To substantiate their contentions, the Austro-Marxists produce voluminous statistical data to prove that Russia in 1917 was a backward agricultural country, with a small industry and proletariat, and not a laud possessing the material prerequisites for socialism.

The Stalinist proponents of the theory of socialism in one country place themselves on exactly the same ground as the Austro-Marxists! They differ from the latter only in this, that they produce equally voluminous data to “justify” the seizure of power by the Russian proletariat and the independent construction of a classless society by furnishing statistical proof that Russia does possess the “material prerequisites for socialism.”

This approach to the problem which Austro-Marxists and Stalinists have in common, leads the one to national passivity and the other to national utopianism. It flies directly in the face of the conception held by all genuine Marxist before the war – and up until today. There can no longer be a premature revolution in Europe, Kautsky explained more than a quarter of a century ago. Capitalism on a world scale has become rotten ripe for socialism, wrote the internationalists during and after the war; it has entered the epoch of world revolution.

Lenin’s Point of View

“‘Russia has not reached such a stage of development of the productive forces as would render socialism possible’,” Lenin quoted the Russian Austro-Marxists a year before his death.

“This is the sentence with which all the heroes or the II International, among them of course Suchanov, are strutting around, decorated with it like a peacock’s feather. They repeat this indisputable statement in a thousand tones. But it seems to me that it is not decisive for the estimation of our revolution.

If the debate with the Austro-Marxists is conducted – and that is now the Stalinists are compelled to conduct it – by challenging this “indisputable statement”, which “is not decisive for the estimation” ot the Russian revolution, the Russian Centrists (and their Right wing camp followers à la Lovestone) actually accept the fundamental postulate of national “maturity” laid down by the Austrian Centrists and differ from the latter only to a statistical degree, as it were.

On the basic question, therefore, of internationalism versus socialism in one country, it is not “Trotskyism” which is “rapidly becoming (!) centrism in its contemporary classical form”, but Stalinism which is centrism in its Soviet-bureaucratic form. Lovestoue, who takes his oath on the Stalin theory of national socialism, is thus giving a clear example, in his document, of how convenient it is to lay down a smoke-screen of attack against “Trotsky-Centrism” in order to cover up an obsequious apology for Stalinist Centrism. There is no such thing as the former; the latter, however, not only exists but – do you understand? – also disposes of and dispenses great power and office, and let it be hoped, is as magnanimous in forgiving an erring but penitent underling as it is merciless in ousting him from the American party’s Political Secretaryship.

The Declaration on Centrism

The identification of our position with Austro-Marxism stands out too baldly as a mere assertion in the Lovestone statement. He therefore proceeds to enlarge upon it with a casual reference to the Declaration of Four (Left Opposition, Socialist Workers Party of Germany, and the Independent and Revolutionary Socialist Parties of Holland) as indicating “very clearly its essentially Centrist character”. Here, as so often in his whole political career, Lovestoue is simply relying on the artifice of trading on the gullibility of readers who may not take the trouble to read original documents. In point 3 of the Declaration of Four we read:

“No less energetically must be rejected the theory of the Austro-Marxists, Centrists and Left reformists who, under the pretext of the international character of the socialist revolution, advocate an expectant passivity with regard to their own country, delivering thereby the proletariat in reality into the hands of Fascism.”

And in point 8:

“While ready to cooperate with all the organizations, groups and factions which are actually developing from reformism or bureaucratic Centrism (Stalinism) towards revolutionary Marxian policy, the undersigned at the same time declare that the new International cannot tolerate any conciliation towards reformism or Centrism. The necessity unity of the working class movement cannot be attained by the blurring of reformist and revolutionary conception.”

A Deliberate Falsification

These two passages, it would seem, ought to “indicate very clearly” not only to what extent the Opposition has become the “ideological local point of a new international Centrist concentration” but also the extent to which Lovestone is accustomed to stating facts correctly. But there is more material before us. Whoever thinks that one swindle per document is enough, does not know the gentleman and the school we are dealing with.

“The Trotskyist Manifesto for a new International,” writes the artful dodger, “carefully avoids all reference to Soviets as the form of the proletarian dictatorship. The deliberate refusal even to mention the Soviets likewise constitutes a virtual renunciation of the fundamental principles of Communism.”

Here we reach a point where it requires a physical effort to overcome a feeling of revulsion and to continue the article. Is it possible or worth while even to write against persons who so obviously and deliberately lie – not exaggerate, not misunderstand, not misinterpret, but simply and flatly lie? Yet there are workers who read such abominations and put credence in them; so we swallow hard and proceed.

The manifesto, we are told, has not merely “overlooked” the Soviets, but has “carefully avoided” and “deliberately refused even to mention” them. We turn to the Militant of September 23, and read in point 8 of the Declaration:

“To remain equal to its task the new International must not permit any deviation from revolutionary principles in the question of the insurrection, the proletarian dictatorship, the Soviet form of the state, etc.”

The Truth About the 21 Points

Appparently under the illusion that like Stalin, who enjoys an absolute monopoly of the Soviet press, he can lie wholesale and with impunity, Lovestoue goes on with his arraignment of “Trotskyist-Centrism” to show that we demand the “radical revision” of the 21 points of the Comintern which, he reminds his readers, “were first formulated as a means of radical differentiation of Communism from Ceutrism”. So they were. Now let us see precisely what we do demand, as stated in the declaration of the Opposition representatives at the Paris conference:

“The 21 conditions for the acceptance to the Communist International elaborated in its time by Lenin for the purpose of a decisive separation from all types of reformism and anarchism, acquire at this stage again an urgent character. it is of course not a question of the text o£ this document which should be radically changed in accordance with the conditions of the modern period, but of its general spirit of evolutionary Marxist irreconcilability.”

In other words, if the text of the 21 conditions is to be changed then, only in the sense of making more distinct the line of demarcation between the Communists of today and the Centrists and reformists of all varieties, including Stalinists and all their apologists and attorneys. The 21 conditions must be revised not by watering them down to make them more acceptable even to the most radical of the reformists, but so that they may reflect the significance of those thirteen years of tremendously important events in the international class struggle which have intervened since the second Congress of the Comintern. These events have deeply confirmed the soundness of the intransigent spirit of the conditions set down in 1920. Anyone who would cling rigidly to the liberal text of the 1920 document, and refuse to incorporate into it what we have been taught by the rise to power of Stalinism, the dispute over national socialism, the defeat of the Chinese revolution, the catastrophe in Germany, tho problem of Fascism and social democracy – would not be a revolutionary Marxist but a poor bookworm of an archivist. Lovestone is not even the latter, for there is something honorable and respectable about that vocation which has nothing in common with forgery and misrepresentation.

The “August Bloc” Hoax

As the trump card in his marked deck, Lovestone plays the “August bloc”. He is referring here, let it be emphasized, not to the bloc with Tseretelli and the Mensheviks proposed in March 1917 by Stalin, not to the bloc with LaFollette in 1924, and Purcell in 1926, and Chiang Kai-Shek in 1927, and Upton Sinclair in 1933, nor even to the Lovestone bloc with pseudo-progressive labor skates in certain trade unions, but to the “opportunistic concentration against Bolshevism” in 1912.

Now, who are the representatives of Bolshevism today against whom are united the “heterogeneous tendencies, running all the way from open reformism to self-styled ultra-radicalism” of which “the ideology of Trotskyism is the binding force”? Surely, nobody will ask that the flexibility of one’s sense of humor should be taxed to the point of considering the Brandlerites, more than half of whom have already passed into the camp of the social democracy, as the modern representatives of Bolshevism? For, after all, who is there with time and energy hanging so heavily on his hands as to go through the trouble of making a bloc with anyone else for the purpose of an international campaign against ... the Brandlerites?

Or perhaps the representatives of Bolshevism today are the Stalinists? “Should this standpoint be adopted by the Communist Opposition,” Zam writes with some concern in his minority declaration, “there would be left no alternative but to liquidate and return to the Comintern.” That is precisely what Lovestone’s new sortie against “Trotskyism” signifies: his preparing for a complete reconciliation with the Stalinist apparatus.

The Position of the Centrist Parties

But the “bloc” of all these heterogeneous Centrist groups for the new International – what about that? It does not exist, uneasy and unfortunate reader of the Workers Age, not even in Lovestone’s mind. At the Paris Conference of independent socialist and Communist parties and groups, held in August 1933, there were more than one “contemporary classical” Centrist organization represented. Some of these organizations were close to the Second International or moving (at least in sections) towards it. Others were close to Communism or moving towards it. Still others stood for the merging of the two Internationals or for the creation of an intermediate organization. These included such groups as the English Independent Labour Party, the Norwegian Labor Party, the Party of Proletarian Unity in France, the Italian Socialist Party (Balabanova), the Independent Communist Party of Sweden (Kilboom), the Russian Left S.R.s of Steinberg, and the Right wing Iberian Federation of Maurin & Co.

On the key question of the new International, the official minutes report (page 24): “For the second amendment of the S.A.P. (Germany), declaring in principle for a new international – all the seven organizations listed above are recorded as voting ‘Against’”! The Lovestone document “carefully avoids” – or shall we say “deliberately refuses even to mention”? – any reference to this revealing little detail. Nor would it be appropriate tor him to do so. It would fit into the rest of his document like a lily in a sewage bucket.

A Plagiarism from Hillquit

Lovestone so notoriously rooted in the American class struggle, takes “Trotskyism” to task further because “the political justification for this sudden change of position in the American class struggle it finds exclusively in some alleged developments in Germany! ... It still remains without roots in its own conditions, a mere international extention of Russian Trotskyism in its new form”.

It is not entirely fair to attack Lovestone for this wretched nationalistic distortion of Marxism, because the real author of it is, as we suggested last week, the late Morris Hiliquit. In his time, he too polemized against the Left wing in his party and the Communists in general for justifying the change in the position here because of “some alleged developments” in Russia. In September 1920, he inveighed in the New York Call, with all the ardor of a one hundred percent American revolutionist, against “the incorrigible tendency of the Moscow International to deduce from specific and casual Russian conditions infallible social maxims of universal application”. A few years later, that other learned pillar of genuine, uninfected American socialism, James Oneal, who also could not conceive of the American communist movement taking shape upon the basis of any event occurring outside the purlieus of Union Square and who still looks upon the movement as a foreign product smuggled into this country without even the payment of customs duties, explained away the aberration by writing:

“The ‘split’ in the American organization was a direct outcome of the Russian revolution and the attacks made upon pro-war Socialists by the Russian Communists. Even the Manifesto and Program of the Left wing which formulated the grievances of the insurgents did not charge the American socialists with support of the war.”

Clearing the Atmosphere

We have no record at hand of what Lovestone thought of or replied to the Mayflower socialists at that time. From his present-day attacks upon the idea of the new International and a new Communist party in the United States, however, one can only conclude that the reasoning of Hillquit and Oneal must have made a persuasive and lasting impression upon him.

The Lovestone statement ends with a not very elaborately concealed bid for unity with the Stalinists “to prevent this Centrist crystallization into new ‘Communist’ parties, nationally and internationally”. The Right wing leaders are ready to crawl back, especially if the terms of their pardon are not too obstrusively humiliating. We speak as disinterested observers: by all that has been said above, we see no good reason why the reunion of Lovestone and Co. with their Stalinist taskmasters should not be speedily effected. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished for. It will clear the atmosphere.

(Our next article will deal with the statement of the Lovestone group minority.)

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