MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 2
Appendix to Introduction
Trotskyists in World War Two
by Pierre Vert
Source: Prometheus Research Library, New York. Published originally in Spartacist (English edition) No. 38-39, Summer 1986.
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: David Walters, John Heckman, Prometheus Research Library.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006/Prometheus Research Library. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive & Prometheus Research Library as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.
This article was prepared for publication from remarks made at the meeting of the International Executive Committee of the iSt, held in Paris 30 November-1 December 1985.
An extremely rich, though somber, discussion on the activity of the international Trotskyist movement during World War II was provoked by an article by Pierre Broué, “Trotsky et les trotskystes face à la deuxième guerre mondiale” (“Trotsky and the Trotskyists Confront World War II”) in issue No. 23 (September 1985) of Cahiers Léon Trotsky. Comrades noted that this review, published by intellectuals associated with Pierre Lambert’s deeply reformist PCI (Parti Communiste Internationaliste, formerly Organisation Communiste Internationaliste [OCI]), is probably the most provocative publication in the world today for archival and historical research on the Trotskyist movement.
Broué presents a critical analysis of the Proletarian Military Policy, advocated by Trotsky just before he was murdered, along with a discussion of the national question in the occupied countries and of the participation of Trotskyists in the Stalinist-dominated Resistance. Broué argues against the view that Trotsky was sliding toward social defensism of the “allies” against the hideous barbarism of the Nazis. Rather, his argument implies that Trotsky was the first Pabloite. To Broué, Trotsky’s 1940 call for “militarization” of the anti-fascist, proletarian masses amounts to the liquidation of the revolutionary vanguard party into the “mass movement,” a policy actually developed and carried out by Michel Pablo. Moreover, Broué complains that the Fourth International did not take to heart Trotsky’s “militarization” policy. Broué summarizes:
“The question that we wanted to raise here is not an academic question. During World War Two, were the Trotskyist organizations, members as well as leaders, victims of an objective situation, which in any case was beyond them, and could they have done no better than they did, that is: to survive, round out the human material they had already recruited and save their honor as internationalists by maintaining through thick and thin the political work of ‘fraternizing’ with German workers in uniform? If that is so, it would then be well to admit that with his 1940 analysis of the necessity for militarization and his perspective for building the revolutionary party in the short term and beginning the struggle for power, Trotsky was totally cut off, not only from world political reality, but from the reality of his own organization. In that case, Trotsky was deluding himself about the possibility of a breakthrough when the Fourth International was in fact doomed to a long period of impotently ‘swimming against the stream,’ in the face of the ‘Stalinist hold on the masses.’ But one could assume the opposite: that the Trotskyist organizations, both the ranks and the leadership, were part and parcel of this and were at least partly responsible for their own failures. In this case one might think, reasoning from the premises of Trotsky’s 1940 analysis, that World War Two developed a mass movement based on national and social resistance which the Stalinists took pains to derail and caused to be crushed, as in the Greek example—and that the Trotskyists, having proved incapable of integrating themselves, were unable to either aid or to exploit it, and even perhaps to simply understand the concrete nature of the period they were living through.”
Broué, while addressing very real questions, is nonetheless mainly waging a veiled polemic against what he calls party-building by “incantation”—a retrospective justification of the Lambert group’s recent dissolution into the “Mouvement pour un parti des travailleurs” (“Movement for a Workers Party”), which explicitly harks back to the pre- Leninist conceptions of the “party of the whole class” of the Second International. The MPPT is a collection of anti-communist social democrats backed by sectors of the Force Ouvrière trade-union federation, a union created with CIA funds in 1947 and still on Reagan’s payroll.
Trotsky on Militarization
In the U.S., the Proletarian Military Policy (PMP) was a misdirected attempt to turn the appetite of the American working class to fight fascism into a revolutionary perspective of overthrowing its “own” imperialist state. The central proposition of the PMP was a call for trade-union control of the compulsory military training being instituted by the state. But “workers control of the bourgeois state,” if other than a routine social-democratic government, has only been an episode in an immediately revolutionary, dual power struggle. The workers army Trotsky wrote of must be forged under conditions of class battles and revolutionary crisis—dual power—through independent workers militias and the splitting of the bourgeois armed forces.
The call for the PMP was in fact soon shelved, but not until after Max Shachtman subjected it to a devastating polemic, “Working-Class Policy in War and Peace,” in the January 1941 issue of New International. On this point the left-centrist Shachtman, at the beginning of his 18-year slide toward State Department socialism, was correct against the SWP.
But if Trotsky’s 1939-40 writings do reveal an apocalyptic vision of the war which led him to see the need to develop some strategy to fairly immediately win over the army, it is necessary to emphasize that the PMP was nonetheless directed toward the mass organizations of the U.S. working class.
For Broué, “proletarian mobilization” quickly becomes “militarization” pure and simple. For example, he lauds the decision of Ch’en Tu-hsiu, the historic leader of Chinese Trotskyism, to become the political advisor of a division of the bourgeois nationalist Kuomintang’s army. It’s not an accident that after this adventure in 1937, Ch’en Tu-hsiu advocated the building of a “Third Force” between the CP and the Kuomintang on a purely bourgeois-democratic program, turned to defensism on the Allied side in the war and abandoned defense of the USSR, which he no longer considered a workers state. Before his death in 1942 Ch’en Tu-hsiu broke all ties with the Fourth International.
Broué never once distinguishes between workers militias, petty-bourgeois guerrilla formations (such as that of Tito whose seizure of power created a deformed workers state) and guerrilla formations under the discipline of a bourgeois general staff, as in the case of the French Resistance. This permits him to generalize from the Greek example, which followed a completely different trajectory from that of France or Italy. Despite popular-frontist capitulation, the Stalinist-controlled guerrilla army was headed toward an inevitable confrontation with the British-backed monarchy after the withdrawal of the Nazi occupation forces. This would have posed, as in Yugoslavia, the possibility of a deformed workers state if the Stalinists had won. Of course, Broué is not interested in this aspect of the question (the Lambertist tendency, to which he belongs, took 20 years to discover that Cuba was, in fact, not capitalist).
Broué cites a 1943 document from the fragmented Greek Trotskyist movement which warns, “The Anglo-Americans will come to hand state power back to the bourgeoisie. The exploited will only have traded one yoke for another.” Hundreds of Greek Trotskyists were murdered by the Stalinists for telling the truth about the designs of the imperialist Allies. Yet for Broué:
“If this was indeed as it was, it is clear that the Greek Trotskyists, by contenting themselves with negative prophecies and not enrolling in the mass movement, would have condemned themselves to death.”
This shows clearly enough where Broué wants to go, which is not at all where Trotsky, whatever the faults of his PMP, wanted to go.
Consideration of these questions among the comrades of the IEC provoked a discussion of the national question and in what sense it was posed in fully formed, bourgeois industrial nations overrun by a particularly savage imperialist conqueror like the Nazis. The question that interested our cadres very specifically was “what is to be done” by a Marxist propaganda group, an organic part of the proletariat, in the face of cataclysms like WWII when, at least initially, the winds of chauvinism blow strongly against us. As one comrade noted:
“There’s a very big difference between being a propaganda group and a mass party. Very big indeed. If you are a mass party you not only must fight but you can fight and you can win. In major agitational struggles. If you’re a few dozen or a few hundred people, you’d better hold your cadres....
“The Bolsheviks were not, after 1905, a little propaganda group. They were a contending party for power. And because you can read their manifestos it does not make you the equal of them. They had the bulk of the industrial proletariat of their country.”
The sobriety of the discussion derived from the fact that the tactics and strategy being debated were factors of life and death to our comrades 45 years ago. A French comrade said:
“The party was destroyed. There were a few people who remained during that long period—because it was very long, you know, five years in those kinds of circumstances is very long. A lot of people were killed, destroyed. A lot of people were not prepared at all for these kinds of issues. A lot of people wavered.”
It is very difficult to draw a balance sheet, but some acts we embrace as part of our heritage. One of the most well-known and heroic attempts at revolutionary defeatist fraternization was the distribution by a French Trotskyist cell in Brest of the paper Arbeiter und Soldat. This operation was aimed at German naval personnel, the children of communist and socialist workers. The American SWP lost merchant marine comrades who had been on the dangerous supply run to Murmansk. And on the West Coast of the United States, American dockers and seamen tossed cigarette packs containing Trotsky’s “Letter to Russian Workers” in Russian onto Soviet freighters that came in from Vladivostok. Before Togliatti retook control of the Italian CP in 1943, American Trotskyist seamen were acclaimed by CP crowds in Naples, then in the throes of a mass uprising against the Nazis. At the IEC meeting, a comrade from Italy explained:
“So you have this completely paradoxical situation where the most important resistance group in the left in the city of Rome was a semi-Trotskyist grouping.... Mussolini had come too early [for the CP base to have been thoroughly Stalinized]—in Rome you would have CP members going around and writing on the walls “Long Live Lenin! Long Live Trotsky! Long Live Stalin!” There was no sense that there had been a split.... [The group] Red Flag had the majority of the working-class elements in the resistance and they were an eclectic group, but they didn’t have cadre, they didn’t have a clear program, so that could be taken over by the CP at one point.”
And we stand on the work of the Vietnamese Trotskyists. As one comrade put it:
“They [the Vietnamese Trotskyists] knew what to do. They waited until 1945 in Saigon and Hanoi. That was the time to move...when the British and then later also the French army came in. And we were killed for that. But not to be killed stupidly by Stalinist assassins in Greece [1943-1944] and in Spain in 1937 and ’38. And I think that Trotsky became overwhelmed by the horrors of Nazi totalitarianism and, without a qualitative capitulation to victory or defense between the interimperialist powers, he wanted an overly forward policy which would have and in fact did destroy our cadres in the hands of Michel Pablo.”
The IEC meeting voted to re-endorse the 1934 document “War and the Fourth International.”
We are a tendency which is very much preoccupied by the question of continuity with our revolutionary forebears. And we do understand that if the successive American sections—Cannon’s revolutionary SWP and now the Spartacist League/U.S.—have had to make an enormous contribution to the reconstruction of the continuity of the international communist movement, one of the reasons is that more than a hundred senior European and Asian cadres were killed in the period from 1937-1946 at the hands of the fascists and the Stalinists.