From Spartacist (English Edition)
No. 38-39, Summer 1986
By Pierre Vert
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.