Stop Juggling with Quotations...
Promote the Revolutionary Dynamics of Marxism

(In our July issue we reproduced an article from Proletarian Path polemicising over Comrade Arindam Sen’s paper presented in the last Central Party School. Here we carry Comrade Sen’s rejoinder)

"... On the particular question of socialism in one country we must say that in terms of Marxist orthodoxy, Trotsky’s position was unassailable. But, as a thorough doctrinaire, he was never good at bringing theory into correspondence with the real march of events, with the changing course of life. During his last two-three years, Lenin had sensed the decline in the prospects of the spark of the Russian revolution starting a prairie fire, and had adjusted his international and national policies accordingly, the NEP being a case in point. And soon after his death, certain developments like the abortive German revolution and Canton uprising made it even clearer that for a considerable length of time the Soviet proletariat would probably have to build socialism alone and unaided. In view of this, Stalin led the majority in the party leadership in hammering out a theory of socialism in one country. Of course, it was going too far to attribute this new theory to Lenin, which Stalin did presumably to invoke the authority of the deceased leader in the face of Trotsky’s powerful onslaught. But Stalin’s theory met the political needs of the time and aroused the party ranks and the people in embarking upon a heroic course of socialist construction. In that particular juncture Trotsky’s insistence on the impossibility of socialism in one country was not only theoretically stale but politically harmful.
Trotsky based his arguments on an overly optimistic assessment of the prospects of the world revolution. History badly belied his hopes. And led by Stalin the people of USSR created history in building socialism in the face of heaviest odds.
And yet, questions remain, or freshly crop up....."

Proletarian Path in its December 1995 issue had done me a great honour. In a small fragment picked up from my 1994 Party

School paper it has discovered, with great labour, a series of challenges: to ‘Marxism-Leninism’ as well as ‘to the history, theory and practice of the international communist movement and the communist movement in India’. (emphases added)

Such generous tributes naturally make one feel flattered. I never imagined, and nobody ever told me before, that a modest discussion paper by a small fry like myself could be so powerful, even if in terms of nuisance value! But I wonder, do I really deserve the honour?

Before I proceed to clear my doubts, I must put across to readers of Proletarian Path (PP) and Liberation (LB) certain relevant information. The writer of the ‘Comment’ in PP claims to take up my paper Trotskyism Revisited. Actually that is one of the three sections of my paper entitled Challenges to Marxism Today. The section on Trotsky, again, comprises three parts or sub-sections: Socialism in One Country, The Fourth International: Perception and Practice and Our Approach towards Trotskyism Today. The ‘Comment’ is actually focussed exclusively on the first sub-section. For easy reference I reproduce here two crucial paragraphs from this part(See box), because my friendly commentator quotes from here repeatedly and very ingeniously.

To minimise confusion generally I will be using single quotes while quoting from PP and double quotes from parts taken from my paper on other sources. The phrase "Juggling with Quotations" is from Stalin’s polemics against Trotsky in "Reply to the Discussion...." (see "On the Opposition p 484)

The Five Sins of Trotskyite Sen

The ‘proletarian’ commentator puts me in the dock for at least 5 wanton attacks on Marxism-Leninism:

1. Arindam Sen makes the self-contradictory statement that on the question of building socialism in one country, Trotsky’s position was "unassailable in terms of Marxist orthodoxy", yet "theoretically stale and politically harmful in that particular juncture."

2. Writing history like an "idealist skepticist’, Sen does not elaborate on "that particular juncture" or on `the origin and development of the theory of socialism in one country’.

3. Sen projects Stalin as the author of the said theory, and therefore as the one ‘who revised Marx’. But in actual fact it was Lenin’s theory, so that if anyone was to be blamed for departure from Marxists orthodoxy, ‘it was not Stalin but Lenin.’

4. Sen gives out the impression that the theory of socialism in one country ‘engendered narrow nationalism’.

5. Sen takes recourse to all these distortions, ‘half-truths’ etc. ‘with a view of prove himself a Leninist — but not Stalinist. It is the silly old ‘tactics’ of Trotskyites by which they fight Lenin and Leninism.’

On the Theory-Practice Interface

Let us start with the first item on the chargsheet.

That a particular standpoint may generally correspond to what Marx and Engels had written in their time, i.e., to the letter of Marxism or "Marxist orthodoxy" in this sense, and yet be inappropriate or harmful in a particular situation, belongs to the ABC of Marxism. But this dialectic is beyond the grasp of those whose conception of Marxism, to borrow a phrase from Lenin, is "impossibly pedantic". And this was why Lenin had to insist a hundred times that old formulas learnt by habit do not solve real problems of revolution; what is needed is fresh analysis of contemporary conditions to creatively develop new approaches and new solutions. Lenin’s own works contain innumerable illustrations of this principle and this practice. For the benefit of our commentator I will cite here just one of these.

In a report to the Third Congress of Communist International, Lenin dwelt at length on "the problem of the relations the proletariat should establish with this last capitalist class in Russia" (meaning the small producers, mainly the peasantry — AS). Said he: "All Marxists have a correct and ready solution for this problem in theory. But theory and practice are two very different things, and the practical solution of this problem is by no means the same as the theoretical solution" (From Lenin’s Collected Works [henceforth LCW] Vol.32, P.484). In the given situation that practical solution was "alliance with the peasantry", which was not the conventional on orthodox Marxist answer. Should we blame Lenin for this `departure from Marxism’, for this `revisionism’?

Now for the issue at hand. The ‘proletarian’ commentator quotes me as saying that Trotsky’s position was unassailable (LB p.19, Para 5) and yet Stalin hammered out a new theory (Ibid, para 6) — which naturally sounds odd. The trick is to leave out what lies in between (see box): my reference to Trotsky’s grave failure to match theory to the new situation of declining world revolutionary prospects prompted Lenin to readjust the party’s national-international strategies and led Stalin to elaborate the theory of socialism in country. It was this new situation, I later added, which rendered Trotsky’s conventionally correct position backdated and inadequate in theoretical terms. More important, it became increasingly harmful in terms of the current political task. For, despite Trotsky’s clarifications, it generated doubts among communist ranks and the masses, engaged in a life-and-death struggle to build socialism in the USSR, about the feasibility of that very project. What was correct yesterday thus became gravely erroneous today.

The Particular Juncture:
Lenin `abandoned proletarian dictatorship'?

My paper tries to bring out the decisive feature of the new situation, or the "juncture" of circa 1921-26, in two sentences (see box; "During his ... unaided"). This feature was: decline in the immediate prospects of proletarian revolutions in other countries, which thrust on the Russian proletariat the hitherto unthinkable task of developing the theory and practice of "socialism in one country".

This is indeed too brief, the reason is that the whole emphasis of my paper was not on the history of communist movement but, as noted at the beginning, on current challenges to Marxism. The purpose of the paper as well as discussions at the Party School was to acquire a better grasp of the Marxist method for understanding the highly volatile contemporary world, with pages from history providing some of the materials for this discussion. In any case, the charge of inadequate description of the "juncture" is factually correct and anyone offering to supplement it is most welcome.

But what a supplement we are offered! The ‘proletarian’ Comment states that the crux of the situation lay in ‘two alternatives’: either revolutions in other countries, or a worker-peasant agreement in Russia, and that Lenin opted for the second condition ‘because he became convinced’ that the first was not forthcoming (emphases added). It also tells us that ‘Lenin had to retreat even on the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat’, for ‘the agreement abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat over the peasantry’ (see p.22, Liberation July 96)

Compare this with what Lenin actually said on the relation between dictatorship and alliance: "the supreme principle of the dictatorship is the maintenance of the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry in order that the proletariat may retain its leading role and its political power." (LCW 32, p.490)

This appears towards the end of the same document from which PP also quotes: "Third Congress of the Communist International" (LCW 32, pp.451-96). Further on, Lenin clarifies at the last-but-one paragraph: "We tell the peasants quite openly that they must choose between the rule of the bourgeoisie, and the rule of the Bolsheviks — in which case we shall make every possible concession within the limits of retaining power, and later we shall lead them to socialism. Everything else is deception and pure demagogy." (Ibid, p 496, emphases mine). Where arises the question of `abandoning’ the dictatorship over the peasantry?

The dialectical unity of dictatorship and alliance in relation to the peasantry which is so clear in this socialist reformulation of Lenin’s 1905 slogan for democratic revolution ("revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry") is something the `proletarian’ commentator cannot digest. He frantically searches for a suitable `quote’ to `prove’ his own metaphysical, "either-or" understanding. And he satisfies himself that he has found one. Not in any of Lenin’s works finalised by the author for publication, though, but in the preparatory materials for the pamphlet "Tax in Kind". But a careful scrutiny of these materials as well as the finalised pamphlet would make it clear that the meaning attributed to Lenin’s words is purely hypothetical, to say the least. Here we have an example (we shall come across many more) of how not to read Lenin, how not to quote Lenin.

Socialism in One Country:
`Stalin only followed Lenin'?

The third allegation invites us to set the record straight on the origin of the theory of socialism in one country.

For reasons cited earlier, my paper is extremely brief on this point. It states that in view of the changed would situation in early 1920s, Lenin started readjusting both national and international strategies but it was Stalin who actually developed the said theory in course of sharp polemics with Trotsky. The continuation from Lenin’s time is not denied. Nor is it suggested, as the ‘proletarian’ commentator falsely alleges, that ‘Lenin had no relation at all’ to this theory. I do not say that calling it Lenin’s theory is absolutely baseless or a travesty of facts, but observe that this is "going too far", i.e., overstretching one aspect (Lenin laying the foundation for this theory) to the total neglect of another (Stalin’s crucial role in giving it a complete shape).

What is the PP version? It correctly points out that for the Soviet Party and people socialism in one country was a matter not of choice but unforeseen compulsion and that in this field (as usually happens in such cases) theorisation mainly followed in the wake of practice. This point is clearly conveyed by the repeated use of posers like ‘was it not ... in practice?’ (see LB, pp.23-24). The same thing is explicitly recognised in the statement that ‘Stalin felt the need of a theoretical formulation ... especially in the absence of Lenin to guide the work which was ‘in vogue in practice in Lenin’s time’.

And then? Stalin went forward to fulfill this need — one would expect, and that would be both logically consistent and historically true. But such a position would have badly spoiled out commentator’s case. He therefore stops abruptly and clings to his original assertion that ‘it was he (Lenin) and not Stalin (emphases in the original - AS) who was the author of the theory of socialism in one country?

But does he not cite quotations from Lenin to ‘prove’ his point? Of course he does, and he does it in two ways. First he shows how in 1915-16 Lenin theoretically demonstrated the objective grounds for the socialist revolution being victorious first in one or a few countries. This is all right, but beside the point in our debate, which concerns not a general theoretical possibility but the concrete, actual case of the USSR. On this question also he quotes a lot and we must now briefly examine these.

The strongest evidence the ‘proletarian’ commentator cites from Lenin is the quotation from "On Cooperation". Here Lenin categorically states that to build "a complete socialist society" three things are needed: state control over massive means of production, proletarian power and worker-peasant alliance under proletarian leadership. Now compare this with a couple of his other observations: "... modern large-scale capitalist engineering and planned organisation under proletarian state" = "sum total of the conditions necessary for socialism" (May 1918, from LCW 27, p.339; emphases in the original); and "Communism in Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country." (December 1920, from LCW 31, p. 516; emphasis in the original)

So we have three different sets of conditions necessary for socialism in the Soviet Union, Soviet power being the only common factor. How do we account for this apparent inconsistency, and for the fact that even in early 1918, when the Bolsheviks staked their chances "exclusively" on world revolution, Lenin fails to mention this as a condition?

The simple and obvious explanation that is hard for book-worms to digest is this. In none of the above instances (and many others could be cited) does Lenin purport to offer a complete theoretical elucidation of the conditions necessary for building socialism in Russia. As the supreme commander of revolution and construction, he rouses the party ranks to identify and grasp the changing key feature of each particular moment — the main link in a long chain of political tasks — so as to charge ahead in a highly unequal battle with whatever resources available. If one absolutises any of these directives and treats it as a theory of socialism, one betrays a hopelessly crooked mode of reading Lenin (or other teachers of Marxism for that matter). The PP analyst, in his zeal to establish his case, does precisely that.

This is not to say that these instructions were without theoretical significance. To be sure, they contained the most valuable elements of a new theory for the new situation — elements which Trotsky ignored but Stalin grasped and developed. Through a series of pamphlets starting with Foundations of Leninism (May 1924) and concluding with Chapter VI (on The Question of Socialism in One Country) of the treatise Concerning Questions of Leninism (January 1926) he clarified in adequate detail all the theoretical-political confusions of this question.

In this sense, it was Stalin who authored the full-fledged theory which was not available readymade in Lenin’s works.*

Our difference on this question is perhaps clear by now. Essentially it is one of approach and method. I recognise Stalin’s inheritance from Lenin, but stress his independent role, in the face of the Trotskyite challenge, both in the practical work of building socialism in one country (which is generally recognised) and in shaping its theory (which is denied even by a section of Marxists). For this observation I am branded anti-Stalinist and Trotskyite. The ‘proletarian commentator ascribes all theoretical role to-who else — the great Lenin and assures us that poor Stalin ‘only followed Lenin’. This is the way he thinks he saves Stalin from the (imagined) charge of revisionism, for in his eyes any and every departure from what Marx and Engels had written cannot be anything but revisionism!

On half-truths and distortions:
Who says `Stalin was narrow nationalist'?

Let us take up charges 4 and 5 together.

In a crude example of misquoting and misrepresenting one’s opponent to suit one’s purposes, my commentator friend has withheld from his readers certain highly relevant sentences between "that juncture" and "yet, questions ..." (see LB, p.19, middle column and compare with box). These sentences are crucial because they round off my discussion of the Stalin- Trotsky debate by declaring — with the fullest conviction — that ultimately history proved Trotsky wrong, while Stalin led the Soviet power to create new history. "And yet", said I, we must reckon with at least two questions somehow related to the old debate. The first, which angers my friend so much, is this. Did not the overriding concern for safeguarding the only (up to 1949) fortress of socialism, perfectly understandable in itself, have its negative impacts too? This question is posed in view of experiences like International guidance to Indian communists, particularly at junctures such as 1942. The second question, not mentioned by the `proletarian’ commentator is perhaps more interesting: how about building socialism in practically one single country (China) today, in the current international situation which has changed a lot since the days of the Stalin-Trotsky debate?

Obviously, both these questions deserve separate and detailed studies and were therefore left open at the School. Then why were they posed at all? To carry home the lesson that at new turns of history (after the Soviet collapse in our case) old and "settled" questions often reappear — in new and maybe disturbing forms — and demand of us not conventional answers but fresh research and (as in the Chinese case) bold new course of action. Such critical review helps us either to further enrich our present understanding or to discard it wholly or in part in favour of new formulations.

Well, one may or may not like this method of discussing problems of Marxism-Leninism, and one is free to criticise. But drawing wild ‘inferences and putting Trotsky’s words (Stalin is ‘a narrow nationalist’) into my mouth — is this the PP’s way of telling full truth?

"Our Approach towards Trotskyism Today"

In the last salvo, the PP calls me a Trotskyite in an indirect way. That is fine. Only it was to be expected that this charge be substantiated with reference to my concluding remarks on Trotskyism. But my friendly commentator is conspicuously silent on this point — for reasons that must be obvious to the readers by now. Anyway, to enable them to arrive at their own judgment, I must present here a very short summary of the salient points covered in the sub-section with the title quoted above.

First it is demonstrated that obsessive anti-Stalinism was the basic ideological-political mainstay of Trotsky and his followers in the Fourth International (FI). "Such a narrow political vision beneath the rhetoric of broad "internationalism" has, always and everywhere, determined the sectarianism Trotskyites are notorious for".

Next comes a discussion of "the basic ideological flaw of Trotskyism on the question of world revolution:... Trotsky, for all his erudition, never grasped the real dynamics of world revolution in our epoch". This consisted mainly in underestimating the decisive importance of (a) peasant countries like China in world revolution and (b) peasant movements in the revolutions in these countries. In the first case, Trotsky (and his followers) ignored Lenin’s brilliant analysis of the eastward shift of the revolutionary storm-center of world revolution, and in the second, they doggedly refused to learn from the Chinese experience and from Mao’s contributions. Suffering gravely from doctrinairism and subjectivism, Trotsky continued to dream of an impending world revolution — starting from the industrialised nations and spreading to the East — under the banner of his FI.

Concluding the subsection, I observed: "We criticise Trotsky not simply because he failed to grasp the very basis and direction of the world revolutionary process in our epoch. He never grasped the most important strategic conclusion arrived at by the Leninist analysis of imperialism, namely, that coming revolutions will break out at the weakest links in the chain of imperialism. In this sense, he remained a captive of 19th century Marxism and missed the train of Leninism. More, he remained essentially anti-Leninist to his very end at least on this vital question of world revolutionary strategy. And to the credit of his successors in the FI, it must be said that they followed their leader’s steps with utmost devotion, rendering him more profound in the process. Thus they continued Trotsky’s skeptical attitude to Mao even after the victory of the Chinese Revolution and refused to rethink their eurocentric strategic perspective ...

"Such was Trotsky, such are his followers. Even if we leave apart the numerous other misconceptions and misdeeds of Trotskyism in different periods and different parts of the world, we have to denounce it because it sought — and seeks — to deny and sabotage the twentieth century advance in Marxism bequeathed to us in the shape of Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought."

The last sentence, I believe, sums up our approach in not a bad way. We are in the know about the various "misdeeds" of Trotsky and his followers — their conspiratorial, factional, splittist activities. But the hackneyed discussion of these traits, which is vogue in mainstream communist parties, actually obstructs our vision from what is more important: the ideological-political roots of these misdeeds. So if we revisit Trotskyism today it must be precisely to uncover these roots from a contemporary perspective. And that is what we have attempted. Taking a theoretician of Trotsky’s caliber as a good example, we have tried to understand how even with the highest degree of Marxist scholarship, one may become a prisoner of the past, miss the decisive dynamics of one’s age, and produce all sorts of concepts and slogans which only obstruct and subvert the movement. This is also where the section on Trotskyism gets hooked on to the overall scheme of my paper on contemporary challenges to Marxism; but that is a different discussion.

So much for my response to the felicitations bestowed on me; let the readers judge and decide.


Where the rejoinders ends, there still remain one or tow things to say.

By no means is it claimed that my paper is free from silences and defects. One could, for example, very well suggest that I should have taken up fewer topics for more detailed discussion, so as to avoid confusions born of excessive conciseness. This would be a particularly valid complaint from those who have only printed paper to go by and did not benefit from the discussions at the school which complemented the submitted paper in good measure.

Such constructive criticism are indeed welcome, but please do not debase the debate into a battle of quotations (I and afraid I stand co-accused in this case, for I had to play on the turf prepared by my opponent!) Let us learn from history, but not be obsessed with it. Let us took forward, think afresh and creatively develop "what is decisive in Marxism, namely, its revolutionary dialectics." (Lenin, in one of his last dictations Our Revolution, LCW 33, p.476). For unless we do that — let us be frank about it — there will hardly be any Marxism or revolutionary Marxist party in the year 2001.

* His other important interventions in this debate include: The Results of the Work of the Fourteenth Conference of the RCP(B) (May 1925), Political Report of the Central Committee to the Fourteenth Congress of CPSU(B) (December 1925) etc. The intervention continued in later years also (see On Opposition)