From the archive of struggle no.75: anti-Stalinist Leninism in the 1930s (MIA special)

It’s months now since I’ve looked through the Marxist Internet Archive. Since I’ve last been there, loads of really good stuff is up. The below is just from November and December last year, and it covers a period from ca.1930 to ca.1940 which was pivotal in the development of the anti-Stalinist left.

The material here focuses on three overlapping currents in this anti-Stalinist left. The first is the POUM, the Spanish party whose name this blog’s is taken from, who fused the “left” and “right” opposition in Spain to the official Stalinist Communist party, to form a democratic mass movement of radical socialism, before being liquidated by the Stalinists in during the Spanish Civil War.

The second is the Trotskyist movement, Communism’s “left” opposition. While Trotsky supplied much of the intellectual justification for Stalin’s brutal misrule in the Soviet Union, his sharp critique of the degeneration of the Stalinist state made him a criminal in the dictatorship. His followers have formed one of the main planks of anti-Stalinist socialism globally. The material below focuses mainly on American Trotskyists, but particularly those who developed beyond the rigid and damaging orthodoxies of “official” Trotskyism.

Parallel to Trotsky’s Left Opposition, the Right Opposition called for a more democratic path to socialism, and was bitterly excluded from the Communist movement. Unlike Trotksyism, it leaves little organisational trace today, and so its history remains more deeply buried.

In the period from 1930 to 1940, these currents moved from composing a dissatisfied internal dissident streak within Stalinism, to a fully developed critical analysis of Stalinism. From 1940 to 1950, they several different interesting directions forward, some positively, others less so. Between them (along with anarchist, democratic socialist and left communist currents not represented here), they constitute a significant part of the heritage of anti-Stalinism that continues to be relevant to thinking about the task of reforging a radical movement today.

The POUM

Added to the Spanish-language Archivo Andreu Nin and English-language Andrés Nin Archive:

The Catalan Andreu (or Andres in Spanish) Nin i Pérez was a left dissident in the Communist Party, forming a left opposition group Communist Left of Spain (ICE), which merged with the Right Opposition party Bloque Obrero y Campesino, to form the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) in 1935.

Added to the new Julián Gorkin Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

While Nin came to the POUM from the left, Gorkin came from the right.  He was an increasingly anti-Stalinist Communist, expelled from the party in 1929. Based at this point in Paris, where he was a writer, he returned to Spain after the fall of Primo de Rivera. He joined the Communist Madrileña Association, then founded in October 1932 the Madrid section of the Iberian Communist Federation. This was linked to the Bloc Obrer i Camperol (BOC) of Joaquin Maurin, which was in turn linked to the international Right Opposition within the Communist movement, in turn merging with Nin’s group to form the POUM in 1935.

Added to the French language “G. Munis” archive:

Grandizo Munis, Mexican-born, was a member of Nin’s Izquierda Comunista de España, the left-wing half of what became the POUM. Within the POUM, he always represented its left/Trotskyist-leaning opposition, pushing it away from joint action with other Republicans towards a more purist revolutionary position. As such, he was close to the anarchists of the Friends of Durruti. He escaped into France and then to Mexico, where he spoke at Trotsky’s funeral. Later, he moved away from Trotskyism, taking up the position that that the USSR was no longer a workers’ state of any kind, but state capitalist. Although close to Natalya Sedova (Trotsky’s widow) and Max Shachtman (see below), he moved further away from Trotskyism after the war.

Trotskyists and dissident Trotskyists

Added to the Leon Trotsky Archive:

Added to the Leon Sedov Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Leon Sedov was the son of Trotsky and Natalia Sedova. He suffered bitterly at the hands of the Stalinists, who eventually killed him tragically young.

Added to the Christian Rakovsky Archive:

Rakovsky, a Bulgarian born in the 1870s, was involved in the Communist movement in Russia, but dissenting from it as Stalinism became increasingly brutal and totalitarian. Wikipedia: “He came to oppose Joseph Stalin and rallied with the Left Opposition, being marginalized inside the government and sent as Soviet ambassador to London and Paris, where he was involved in renegotiating financial settlements. He was ultimately recalled from France in autumn 1927, after signing his name to a controversial Trotskyist platform which endorsed world revolution. Credited with having developed the Trotskyist critique of Stalinism as “bureaucratic centrism”, Rakovsky was subject to internal exile. Submitting to Stalin’s leadership in 1934 and being briefly reinstated, he was nonetheless implicated in the Trial of the Twenty One (part of the Moscow Trials), imprisoned, and executed by the NKVD during World War II.”

Added to the Max Shachtman Archive:

Shachtman was one of the leading figures of American Trotskyism, but in the late 1930s, with his colleague James Burnham, Shachtman and his new Workers Party moved away from orthodox Marxism, from defence of the USSR and from the Trotskyist movement. Later, he would develop the concept of the Third Camp and then move further away from the Leninist left. Most of the figures featured here broke with orthodox Trotskyism in the 1930s, but all moved in different directions.

Added to the Hugo Oehler Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Oehler was a pioneer, with Shachtman, of American Trotskyism, later breaking with the movement to found the Revolutionary Workers League, rejecting the “French turn” to enter mainstream labour parties. The RWL drew close to the POUM in the later 1930s.

Added to the Russell Blackwell (Rosalio Negrete) Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Blackwell was an American Communist who settled in Mexico, becoming a Trotskyist late in the 1920s. The texts on ETOL date from his orthodox Trotskyist period in the early 1930s. In 1934, “[Hugo] Oehler and Tom Stamm and one third of the Workers Party set up the Revolutionary Workers League in which Blackwell became involved. For several months he dealt with correspondence with and the translating and publishing of the left of the POUM. Refused a passport to Spain because of his revolutionary record, he stowed away on a French ship bound for France. When it was discovered he spoke only Spanish, he was deported to Spain on arriving in France. With Oehler he went to Spain and established contact with the Cell 72 group (the POUM left) in Barcelona. He was arrested twice by the GPU (Russian secret police) working through the Spanish police and twice released on the intervention of the US authorities.” In Spain, he became an anarchist, before his escape to America. He set up the Libertarian League in July 1954 in New York along with Sam and Esther Weiner (Dolgoff).

Mella was a Cuban Communist exiled in the 1920s to Mexico, where he continued to be active in the Communist movement, increasingly on the party’s left, leading to denunciations from the right as a “Trotskyist”. He was eventually expelled from the party and then assassinated by agents of Machado’s authoritarian regime in Cuba.

Added to the new Jan Frankel Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Frankel was an Austrian Jewish Communist then Left Oppositionist very close to Trotsky, living with him in Turkish and Mexican exile, although later breaking with the movement to join the Shachtman-Burnham group.

Added to the Hal Draper Archive:

Added to the T.N. Vance Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

TN Vance aka Ed Sard is essentially remembered now for his development of the concept of the “Permanent War Economy”, which suggested that capitalism could only survive by massive arms expenditures and an imperialist policy aimed at controlling the world’s raw materials – a theory taken up in Britain by Tony Cliff as he evolved away from orthodox Marxism in the early period of the International Socialists (IS), forerunners of today’s SWP. This is a theory that now licenses the SWP’s fundamentalist “anti-imperialist” position. Wikipedia:

The PAE [theory of the permanent arms economy] originated with a member of Max Shachtman’s Workers’ Party/Independent Socialist League named Ed Sard in 1944. Sard, writing as Walter J. Oakes, argued in Politics [edited by Dwight MacDonald]  that the PAE was to be understood as allowing capitalism to achieve a level of stability by preventing the rate of profit from falling as spending on arms was unproductive and would not lead to the increase of the organic composition of capital. Later in 1951 in New International, this time writing as T. N. Vance, Sard argued that the PAE operated through its ability to apply Keynes‘ multiplier effect.[110] Although briefly mentioned by Duncan Hallas in a Socialist Review of 1952 the theory was only introduced to the [International Socialists] by [Tony] Cliff in 1957.[111]

In his May 1957 article “Perspectives of the Permanent War Economy”,[112] Cliff offered the PAE to readers in a version derived from Sard’s earlier essays but without reference to Keynes and using a Marxist theoretical framework.

(See also  “Prophets of the ‘Permanent War Economy‘” Monthly Review 2009.)

Completed a major milestone for the Left Opposition Digitization Project for the MIA: the complete run of Labor Action,
  • “the newspaper of the Workers Party (U.S.) and Independent Socialist League from 1940 through the Autum of 1958. Writers for this paper included, among others, Max Shachtman, James T. Farrell, C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Hal Draper, and Irving Howe. The 19 years of Labor Action represents approx. 1,000 issues published, over half of which are full broadsheet in size. Presented in beautifully digitally optimized PDFs, the work was a joint project between the Riazanov Library Project and the Holt Labor Library. We encourage the free and widespread distribution of this historic archive.”

Added to the Martin Abern Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Added to the B.J. Widick Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Widick was a Trotskyist who followed Shachtman away from the orthodox mainstream. After the war he was active in the United Auto Workers Union and was close to Walter Reuther, Irving Howe, Michael Harrington and others. In other words, he took the opposite direction out of Trotskyism from Oehler and Blackwell, through the “French turn” towards democratic socialism and mainstream politics. He died in 2008. Howe and Albert Glotzer – see below – took the same direction. [More here, here.]

Added to the Irving Howe Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Added to the Albert Glotzer Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL:

Added to the Dwight Macdonald Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Added to the C.L.R. James Archive:

These texts are form when James, the great Trinidadian Marxist, had joined Shachtman’s Workers Party, but was also involved in his own Johnson-Forest Tendency within it (with Raya Dunayevskaya – aka Forest).

Right Opposition

Added to the new Kurt Landau Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Landau was an Austrian left oppositionist (in fact, at the far left edge of the Austrian left opposition). He fell out with Trotsky and was close with other left dissidents, such as Alfred Rosmer, Mika Etchebehere, Lucien Constant and Andreu Nin. He went to Spain, where he joined the POUM, and was murdered by the Stalinists there. Here he describes, critically, the March 1930 founding conference in Berlin of the International Right Opposition.

“Added to the USA History Publications Section are the complete 2 year run of Revolutionary Age, the newspaper of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. (Majority Group) lead by Jay Lovestone. The Majority Group represented the American supporters of the Right Opposition to Stalin in the U.S.S.R. lead by N. Bukharin.”  Revolutionary Age lasted from 1920 to 1932.

Added to the Peter Petroff Archive:

Not technically a Right Oppositionist, but he sits better here than elsewhere in this post. Petroff was a Russian Marxist based in Clydeside before the revolution and again afterwards. He was close to Lenin and fought valiantly in the Civil War, but on Lenin’s death had bad relations with the Communist Party, and remained close to comrades in the British Labour Party, as well as to Sylvia Pankhurst. By 1930, along with his wife Irma, he was a full-scale anti-Stalinist, and this short text is a brilliant denunciation of Stalinsim.

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  1. […] From the archive of struggle no.75: anti-Stalinist Leninism in the 1930s (MIA special) (poumista.wordpress.com) […]


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