A Comment on Trotsky, Defeatism and the U.S.S.R.

Several weeks ago, Criticism &c. noticed a statement released by the Marxist-Humanist Initiative on the subject of the Libyan revolt and U.S. and NATO intervention (“Support Libyan Rebels While Opposing U.S./NATO Intervention“—March 12, 2011). At that time, comment was not deemed worth the effort involved. Upon a second reading, however, at least one distortion of the historical record contained in the statement has prompted a change of opinion. Although the comment below is limited to just one point in the MHI statement, as a whole it can be described as being rendered incoherent by its total abstractness.

Reproduced below is a passage from the MHI statement followed by a critical comment.

• • •

From the Section “War and Imperialism: Our History”

“Raya Dunayevskaya, like Trotsky and the Trotskyists of her time, refused to take sides in World War II. While many Leftists supported the Allies because fascism was so horrendous, she insisted that neither side should be supported by the Left. Our task, she repeated, was to defeat our rulers at home. Her advice to young men on serving in the military was that revolutionaries should serve—in order to organize fellow soldiers around socialist ideas.”

Comment: The document under discussion here (“A Step towards Social-Patriotism: On the Position of the Fourth International toward the Struggle against War and Fascism”) must be described as occupying a relatively obscure place in the debates on war and revolution inside the Trotskyist movement at the time and it does not make the full importance of the issue of defeatism clear. For a more relevant text, see “The U.S.S.R. in War” (September 1939), included in the collection titled In Defense of Marxism. Trotsky did take sides during World War II: he supported the defense of the U.S.S.R. Raya Dunayevskaya split from him on precisely this issue. She was an advocate of the position of defeatism with respect to the U.S.S.R. and, as such, left the official U.S. Trotskyist organization in 1940 in the split that produced the Workers Party. She did not advise revolutionaries to serve in the armed forces of a state engaged in an imperialist war. This instead describes the position of the defensists (James P. Cannon and the Socialist Workers Party), which was called the Proletarian Military Policy.

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