By Max Shachtman
The letter of Natalia Sedova Trotsky, in which she breaks off relations with the Fourth International and with the Socialist Workers Party, is a document of outstanding political importance.
Natalia Trotsky is not only the comrade who was the life-long companion of Leon Trotsky in the revolutionary movement and the one who followed most closely the development of his ideas. She is the last of the living representatives of the greatest revolutionary generation of our time and in particular of that deathless band, the Trotskyist Opposition, which launched its war more than a quarter of a century ago against the Stalinist bureaucracy and its strangulation of the Russian Revolution.
Because she is one of the founders of the Russian Opposition and later of the Fourth International, her repudiation of the organisations which presume to speak in the name of Leon Trotsky is all the more significant. Her decision to break from the movement with which she was so eminently associated for many years was, as she writes in the latter, a difficult one to make. It is as much to her merit that she has made this decision as it is to the discredit of those whose policies forced her action.
We cannot but welcome her letter which, with all its dignity and restraint, is a forthright and forceful rebuke to whose who are making the stainless name of Leon Trotsky for arch-confusion at best and apologetics and defence of Stalinist reaction at worst.
Natalia Trotsky’s differences with the Fourth International, as her letter indicates, did not begin yesterday. They have been developing, ever sharper and more irreconcilable, for several years.
Time and again, in private letters and documents, she addressed urgent appeals for a change in the course that was driving this movement deeper into the mire of pro-Stalinism. Ignored and even ridiculed, never loyally or seriously discussed, these appeals proved vain.
After everything that has happened in the last decade, the spokesmen of the “official Trotskyist movement” persist in repeating the long-outlived dogma that the barbarous police state in Stalinist Russia is working-class in character, that they will rush to its defence in wartime. Now they have added the new and no less monstrous dogma that the police states in the countries which Stalinism has conquered and whose peoples they have reduced to a new and hideous slavery are likewise working-class in character and deserving of their defence.
To cap it all and as a logical outcome of their course, the head of the Fourth International, which was founded in struggle against Stalinism as the incarnation of counter-revolution, is now advocating openly and formally that this same Stalinism is also a revolutionary force for socialism and must be supported in country after country by the “Trotskyist” movement.
Who can remain silent now?
Natalia Trotsky’s refusal to lend a revolutionary name to such abominations will, we trust, help awaken the socialist and Marxist militants in the Fourth International to the need of a radical reconsideration of the course to disaster that their movement has taken. It should help arouse out of inexcusable silence and passivity especially those who charge their own party with defending a fascist state but nevertheless follow it submissively.
Readers of our press who are familiar with our own analysis of the Stalinist state know that while we agree unreservedly with Comrade Natalia’s conclusion that Stalinism has brought the great Russian Revolution to a complete end, we do not see eye to eye with her when she adds that Stalinism has restored capitalism, even if she modifies it with the term “in new and unexpected forms”. In the context of the position she takes on the whole, he disagreement is of minor consequence and belongs in the realm of valuable theoretical discussion. At any rate, we have nothing in common with the “cricitism” of her which is made by the paper of the SWP [SWP-USA, no relation to the current British SWP], the Militant, which prints the text of her letter along with an answer by the Political Committee of the SWP.
The answer is interesting above all because of the pitiable political and theoretical level and the pro-Stalinist arguments which distinguish the “official Trotskyist movement” in general, but not least of all because of the sly venomousness, low insinuations and disloyalty which distinguish the polemics of the Cannonites in particular. We shall take the occasion to return to their statement in an early issue of Labor Action. Here we will refer to but one sentence, which is so typical of their smirking smugness:
“Strict adherence to this [Trotsky’s] teachings and to this method has enabled the world movement he founded to survive and to grow against blows and difficulties unparalleled in history.”
That the Fourth International has laboured under the tremendous blows and difficulties is certainly true. The biggest and cruellest blows were and still are delivered against it by the force it supports more and more slavishly - Stalinism. But not the least of the blows have been delivered by its own leadership and the policies it has followed. The “survival” - let alone the growth - of the is a myth of self-satisfied bureaucrats. Everywhere, without exception, their policy has resulted in or contributed to the stagnation, the splitting-up or the destruction of the Trotskyist movement.
With the departure of Natalia Sedova, they have lost the last representative of the Russian Trotskyist movement.
The Trotskyist movement in Britain they callously split in two, one aftermath being the resignation of the leader of the British movement [Jock Haston] from the Fourth International, another being the increase of those who repudiate the theory that Stalinist barbarism represents a workers’ state, and the third being that the [Healy] “official group” follows a public course which prompts the British Stalinists to praise it in their press and to distribute its paper in their shops.
In France, they have irretrievably split the Trotskyist movement and have left as the “official group” a stagnating fragment which urges the French working class to vote the Stalinists into power.
The Italian movement they have expelled because it did not believe Russia is a workers’ state. [The list goes on...]
In other lands the story is not significantly different.
Much of this gloomy record would have had to be written even if the Fourth International had the best leadership imaginable. There are unfavourable social and political forces at work which cannot be overcome in a day or a month or a year. But insofar as the leadership of the Fourth International was able to control its own existence, it has done its maximum to cripple and disgrace its movement.
No matter what else it does, it will go from bad to worse until it burns out its political system that poisonous theory that the Stalinist states are workers’ states, which it is a socialist and working-class duty to defend. For, as Natalia Trotsky writes:
“Whoever defends this regime of barbarous oppression, regardless of the motives, abandons the principles of socialism and internationalism.”