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“Communist Myths”

Ernest Mandel - Internet Archive
Leonard Schapiro Print
The New York Review of Books, (April 17, 1980), pp. 15 - 17

[The following is an excerpt from a review of six books: three by Roy Medvedev and three about Leon Trotsky, including Trotsky: A Study in the Dynamic of His Thought by Ernest Mandel. Later, Mandel replied to this review in the letter called “The Making of a Classless Society.”]

“The problems raised by Trotsky’s career are indeed numerous. Why, in spite of the many advantages which he enjoyed -- Lenin’s backing and wide-spread party and army support, for example -- did he fail so lamentably in his conflict with Stalin? How, in view of his ruthless record of the suppression of liberty in Russia, did he achieve the reputation among his hero worshippers as the apostle of a more humane, more libertarian form of communist rule than that constituted by Stalin? And why, in view of his many errors of analysis, and of the ramshackle nature of his legacy, the Fourth International, has he become the posthumous guru of world revolution? 

“One will look in vain for an answer to the last question in the latest work of Ernest Mandel, the main theorist of the Fourth International. Consistency is not Mandel’s strong point. For example, when he writes that the crushing of ‘working-class mass uprisings’ in Hungary in 1956 and in Prague in 1968 prove ‘the counter-revolutionary nature of the Soviet bureaucracy,’ one wonders what he believes was proved by the crushing of the ‘working class mass uprising’ in Kronstadt in March 1921, which Trotsky not only directed at the time, but justified in exile many years later. 

“Again, Mandel takes issue with those who criticize Trotsky’s calls for freedom against Stalin’s growing tyranny as being merely a demand for rights for his own opposition -- but glosses over Trotsky’s unswerving support for the suppression of all opposition until such time as he was himself enmeshed in the tyranny of his own creation. It is easy to criticize the tyranny which Stalin created -- with Lenin’s help. But it is difficult to see how the pluralism and tolerance which Trotsky seemed to advocate in his long years of exile could ever be compatible with the communist monopoly of power in which, following Lenin, he maintained his belief. 

“Faced with the obvious lack of revolutionary fervor among the prosperous workers of the developed industrial countries, the Trotskyists, including Mandel, have sought support for revolution wherever it could be found -- in national liberation movements, among radical students, among supporters of women’s liberation or from minority groups. Mandel himself sent greetings to Polish students and workers ‘in their fight against bureaucracy and for real soviet democracy,’ while at the same time reaffirming Trotskyist support for the Soviet Union and the ‘Socialist camp’ against ‘imperialism.’ But it was not ‘imperialism’ that destroyed ‘real Soviet democracy,’ but Lenin with Trotsky’s help. Trotsky may be, in Mandel’s words, ‘the main strategist of the theory and practice of world revolution and world socialism,’ if only by virtue of the myth which has grown up around him because he was the victim of Stalin’s brutality. But it is difficult to see the connection between an anarchical revolution of students or oppressed minorities with anything Marx envisaged -- unless you believe, as many Trotskyists presumably do, that the destruction of capitalism is desirable at any price, and in any manner.


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