The article by Hal Draper in WL57 ("Anatomy of the Rizzi myth") is valuable, but spoiled by a plain factual blunder in its interpretation of the role in Trotsky's thought of his 1939 polemic against the otherwise-obscure Bruno Rizzi's version of the idea that the USSR was "bureaucratic collectivist".
Draper writes: "Trotsky was in the midst of a general revolt inside the Trotskyist groups... against his insistence that the Stalin regime, which had just invaded Finland... had to be defended... as a 'workers' state'... On reading Rizzi's book, he seized on it for ammunition... Trotsky whirled [Rizzi] around his head like a dead cat and hurled him at the opposition... " (emphasis added).
Sean Matgamna's introduction to Draper points out that the presentation of the Trotskyists' argument over Finland is misleading. Almost all the "opposition" on the Finnish question shared Trotsky's general view that they should defend the USSR in war against the big capitalist states, and a large number, maybe most, of them also shared his belief that the USSR was still a degenerated workers' state. The opposition argued that none of that meant that the USSR could be "defended" or supported when it was conquering a small nation like Finland; Trotsky argued that that it must be so "defended" because of the context of the world war.
But there is also a simpler and greater misrepresentation in Draper's account. Trotsky's Rizzi polemic did not come after the invasion of Finland. "The USSR in War", the only article in which Trotsky discussed Rizzi, was written on 25 September 1939. The USSR invaded Finland over two months later, on 30 November.
Trotsky did not mention Rizzi in any of the articles he wrote when the dispute among the Trotskyists had become a fierce, all-out faction-fight (and many "dead cats" were indeed being "let fly"). He mentioned him only in the earliest stages of the dispute, when the lines were not yet clear, and Trotsky was writing: "I hope that still today despite the attempt of some comrades to uncover differences on the question of the 'defence of the USSR'... we shall succeed by means of simply rendering our own ideas more precise to preserve unanimity on the basis of the program of the Fourth International."
Trotsky was not using Rizzi as a device to demonise the opposition. When he wrote "The USSR in War", the chief person he was remonstrating with was James Burnham, who at that time, very definitely, saw the USSR not as "bureaucratic-collectivist" but as undergoing bourgeois restoration. Far from damning Burnham's views by conflating them with "bureaucratic collectivism", Trotsky drew careful distinctions. He wrote that Burnham's view amounted to arguing that the USSR was "a non-class state" - which was a "revision of Marxism" - but a "bureaucratic collectivist" thesis, on the contrary, might well be tenable given certain facts not yet accomplished. Trotsky used Rizzi as a representative not of Burnham's views, but of tentative notions which Trotsky himself was thinking over but rejecting.
Trotsky's argument on Rizzi, in essence, was this: Yes, it seems nonsense to call the USSR a workers' state. Yes, at first sight it makes more sense to call it something like "bureaucratic collectivist". But then, in the development of the productive forces, this "bureaucratic collectivism" represents a step forward from capitalism. You cannot just use the words "bureaucratic collectivism" to give yourself a less "difficult" label for the USSR. You have to recognise it as the wave of the future (as per Rizzi: it must be a possibility that Trotsky never actually read Rizzi's book, but, on skimming it and noticing the "wave of the future" thesis, just used Rizzi's as a convenient up-to-date name to peg the discussion on). And there is not sufficient evidence for that.
The whole argument, in hindsight, falls down completely because of its unjustified assumption that the USSR represented a higher development of the productive forces than capitalism. And, yes, Trotsky did use it to try to foreclose theoretical speculations.
But Trotsky was not using Rizzi as a device to misrepresent his Marxist opponents. And he is not responsible for the subsequent "orthodox Trotskyist" garbling of history which made Rizzi the scary epitome of what naughty girls and boys might grow up as if they dared to deny that the USSR was a workers' state.
Sean Matgamna's interesting introduction to the review by Hal Draper left out an interesting sidelight on the Finnish War and the Trotskyist attitude to it some of which I have mentioned in my obituary of Nils Dahl in Revolutionary History. Perhaps Sean missed it.
On the Winter War itself Dahl was very clear that the Finns had the right to defend themselves, thus totally rejecting the orthodox Trotskyist view. In a conversation with me, which I did not put in the obituary, Dahl said that every member of the Norwegian section, he specifically included Walter Held, indeed as far as he knew every Scandinavian Trotskyist, supported this. He further told me that a letter from the comrades in Norway was sent to the International Secretariat in Paris at the time but this had never so far come to light. My belief is that the Scandinavians knew more about the situation in Finland than the Parisians.
This evidence is all the more interesting in that Nils himself was, after the war, a loyal supporter of the International Secretariat, though towards the end of his life he worked with the comrades in Norway affiliated to the British SWP. He was thus always, if I can use the term, a "workers' statist" and himself saw no contradiction in this. He never took it up afterwards for I am sure he would not have seen it as relevant to the tasks that seemed important in the post-war period.
Regrettably we at Revolutionary History did not interview him on this topic and go into it in more detail. It is, I fear, among our many sins of omission.
One of the problems with the discussion on the left over the crisis in Kosova is that all participants accept terms of debate which are misleading and confusing. And which lead, necessarily, to confused conclusions. Everyone seems to accept as given that the only question at issue is: for or against the right of the overwhelming majority of the population of the region to independence. As if that settled the matter.
No one seems to be interested in discussing the more important issue. Is the exercise of this right by the Kosovars a good thing or a bad thing?
Those who deny the Kosovars - and by extension any other minority - the right to self-determination have no problem. They can choose to support NATO or Milosevic as they see fit. Those who insist on the right of the Kosovars to self-determination, with no exception that I am aware of, go on to advocate independence of the Kosovars as a desirable end in and of itself. But, in fact, one can accept the right of the Kosovars to self-determination - and oppose the Serb government's brutal suppression of that people - while at the same time maintaining that the attempt to establish yet one more ethnically pure völkisch mini-state in the Balkans is a disaster.
There is an interesting historical parallel which readers of Workers' Liberty may be familiar with. That was the revolt of the Jewish population of Palestine in 1948. This oppressed people also demanded - with considerable historical justification - the right of self-determination.
The left at that time divided much as it does today. The majority overwhelmingly backed the long-suffering Jewish people, including hundreds of thousands made refugees by the Holocaust. A minority opposed this revolt out of sympathy for the aspirations of the Arab peoples and, with more or less embarrassment, more or less openly, supported the attempt of the reactionary Arab governments to suppress this revolt militarily.
A small minority of socialists took a "third camp" position. They refused to identify themselves with the uncritical support of a "Jewish state" but they did not support the military campaign of the Arab governments with their demagogic "anti-imperialist" slogans. They took the position that the Jewish population of the area had the right to self-determination while arguing that to claim that right would lead to disastrous consequences - not least of all for the Jews of Palestine themselves. I know of no political prediction - Marxist or not - which has proved to be so tragically accurate.
In the present case, even if we were to accept all of the propaganda of the NATO press - which includes the mass media in all the NATO countries - some questions still beg to be answered.
For one thing, support for the independence of Kosova de facto means support for the KLA. One of the most disgraceful aspects of the left's response to this crisis is that the only people who are willing to talk about the really vicious politics of this movement are those who are apologists for the equally vicious Serbian nationalists - I include Ramsay Clarke and his colleagues among this company - while those who clamour for independence ignore this whole unpleasant matter. To carry out the analogy, it was one thing for progressives in 1948 to defend the right of the Jewish people of Palestine to self-determination and quite another to defend the chauvinist politics of the Zionist movement which was the organised force making this demand. Those politics required, as has now been abundantly documented, the "ethnic cleansing" of non-Jewish Palestinians.
There is another question too. One that was present in 1948 but of less weight than is the case today. Everyone knew that behind the Zionist movement and its demand for self-determination stood the real might of the USA and the Soviet Union, each of whom was, at that point, and each for its own reasons, interested in forcing the incumbent imperialist power, Great Britain, out of the area. Later, the USA became Israel's backer while the Soviet Union switched to the side of Arab nationalism. Outside imperial support was, and is, vital to the Zionist project.
In the Balkans this element of outside imperialist support is much more important. The Jewish war for independence was certainly not a creature of outside forces however much those forces may have exploited the situation. But it is hard to see how either Kosova, or Bosnia, can maintain itself economically or militarily except as the protégé of an outside power - in this case NATO. And NATO means the United States.
It seems to me the only defensible left position, the only humane position, is to oppose this kind of outside force basing itself on the worst chauvinist tendencies in the region with an alliance of the anti-nationalist, anti-chauvinist movements in the region. To counter one chauvinist force by supporting another equally vicious one is madness.
I used to be a Trotskyist but I then understood that Trotsky had made some great mistakes in his definition of the USSR as a degenerated workers' state, a mistake that had fatal consequences of the Trotskyist movement.
The question of the class nature of the USSR is the most discussed question between Marxists in modern Russia. Unfortunately it is necessary for us to "reinvent the wheel" - all past Western Marxist literature about this subject is almost unknown. Of all the state-capitalist conceptions of the character of the USSR, the only widely known theory is that of Tony Cliff.
That is not the best of such conceptions. Works by bureaucratic collectivist theorists are totally absent. I have heard you are supporters of this theory and would be glad to receive a copy of your Fate of the Russian Revolution.
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